Hillary Clinton in Russia to push Moscow on Iran. Is Obama's Nobel Peace Prize helping?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's trip to Russia marks improving diplomatic ties, and some Russian analysts say President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize is creating momentum for more nuclear cooperation.

Natalia Kolesnikova/Pool/REUTERS
Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev shakes hands with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as they meet at the presidential residence in Barvikha outside Moscow, Tuesday.

There didn't seem to be any obvious Nobel buzz, but Hillary Clinton came away from a Moscow meeting with her counterpart Sergei Lavrov Tuesday saying that the much vaunted "reset" in relations between Russia and the US is still very much on track.

And some Russian experts think the aura of President Obama's unexpected Nobel Peace Prize may well have followed his Secretary of State to Moscow and might be exerting subtle pressure on the Russians to move faster and try harder on a range of issues, especially how to find a joint approach to deal with Iran's alleged drive to obtain nuclear weapons.

"Moscow and Washington still disagree about Iran, but after Obama won the Peace Prize there is going to be a much greater sense of responsibility about finding a peaceful solution," says Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the independent Institute of Middle East Studies in Moscow. "The Nobel effect will be felt."

Russia has recently moved closer to the US position that tough action may be needed to bring Iran to heel and compel it to accept a strict non-proliferation regime, though Mr. Lavrov said Tuesday that Moscow still opposes sanctions. "Our position is that all efforts should be made to support the negotiating process," he said.

Clinton said she hadn't asked Russia to take any tough steps yet but added that if talks with Iran don't produce results "we will be seeking to rally international opinion behind additional sanctions."

President Dmitry Medvedev, with whom Clinton met Tuesday evening, said last week that Russia will not countenance a nuclear-armed Iran, and he suggested that sanctions may be "inevitable."

Some experts argue that the Nobel glitz is unlikely to have any impact on hard-nosed Kremlin leaders.

"There is an internal logic to the development of US-Russia relations, and it's not going to be influenced by external factors, like prizes," says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a leading Moscow foreign policy journal. "While Russians certainly welcome Obama's award, nobody's much impressed. Many people here perceive it as a sort of game."

But one of the reasons Obama won the award has been key to thawing Russian-US relations. Mr. Lukyanov says Russia's recent drift toward the US position on Iran is a direct tit-for-tat response to Obama's recent decision to shelve Bush-era plans to deploy missile defense systems in eastern Europe. "Russia appreciated that move, and felt obliged to respond," he says. "That's the way it works." Many in Europe believe that Obama's climbdown on the missile shield played a role in convincing the 5-member Nobel panel to select the US president.

Besides Iran, Ms. Clinton checked in with the Russians on progress toward a new arms control accord, the new transport corridor through ex-Soviet territory to resupply NATO forces in Afghanistan and the idea of collaborating on a global shield to protect against rogue states and accidental missile launches.

One key reason cited by the Nobel committee in awarding Obama the Peace Prize was his work toward nuclear disarmament. Obama has resurrected an old slogan – once championed by Soviet leaders such as Mikhail Gorbachev – of a nuclear weapons free world, or "Global Zero."

Though Russia depends more on its aging nuclear deterrent for its strategic defense than does the United States, some experts say the idealism of the disarmament objective appeals to Russian leaders and Obama might successfully push them in future to make deeper cuts in nuclear arsenals and achieve broader cooperation in trying to establish a global nuclear non-proliferation regime.

"It was one of the unfulfilled promises of the old non-proliferation treaty that the big powers, who have most nuclear weapons, would move toward disarmament," says Yevgeny Bazhanov, vice rector of the official Diplomatic Academy in Moscow, which trains Russian diplomats.

"Russia is ready to make deeper cuts in our nuclear weapons and, on principle, we're ready for full disarmament," he says. "We can see that the pressure is there for Obama, and not just because he won the Nobel Prize, but because the power of example is very strong. It's up to Russia and the US to set that example in the first place."

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