Sunday, November 11, 2007

Putin And The Mullahs, Crawford Edition

This seemed worth pointing out, from NSC Advisor Stephen Hadley's press briefing on President Bush's meeting with Angela Merkel:

One of the things I guess people need to understand is that Russia has been pretty good on the issue of Iran. They understand the problem, they have been active in the diplomacy. You may remember nine months to a year ago, they had a very active engagement going on with Iran, trying to get Iran to accept the notion of suspending an enrichment program and being willing to participate with Russia in an international consortium in Russia that would ensure an adequate fuel supply for their civil nuclear power.

President Putin was recently in Tehran, and he gave a very good message, very consistent with what we've said, the Germans, and others have said, about Iran needing to recognize that it's isolating itself internationally, and needs to give up these programs, and particularly suspend the enrichment, so we can come to the negotiating table.

I think the issues with respect to Russia are tactical issues: at what point do you look at a third resolution; exactly how tough that resolution should be, so that you are both pressing Iran, but also leaving the door open for some solution? And this is, I think, a tactical issue between the two.

The Cheney Gang might very well end up manufacturing a war with Iran. But I get the impression that one of the reasons that they're increasingly looking for bones to pick in Iraq is because the uranium enrichment standoff might actually go our way. Just a few weeks ago, the tone coming out of Moscow was agressive enough to lead some folks here to suggest that Putin might actually give the Iranians nukes. But these kind of conciliatory remarks (coming from one of the vulcans, no less) seem to lend even more support to the idea that some sort of deal has been struck with the Russians. If that's the case, that leaves the China as the odd man out, a position that's much more difficult to sustain than one backed up by Russian cover.

If there's one sticking point, it's the demand for a unilateral enrichment freeze before proceeding with overarching negotiations, something the Iranians claim infringes on their sovereignty. But if the framework of the negotiations were expanded to include a "grand bargain", ie. if the rewards for an Iranian freeze were multiplied, some sort of face-saving arrangement could probably be worked out.

It would take courage and boldness, something this administration lacks when it comes to anything other than appropriating extra-Constitutional authority. It's too bad, because the pay off for America's image around the globe would be enormous, contrary to what the fearmongers would have people believe. Far from being a demonstration of weakness, it would show America's strength. The kind that allows you to distinguish a minor annoyance from a major threat.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   Russia   

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