For the past few weeks, I’ve been arguing that the best way to approach Iran is obliquely: set the table for negotiations by improving our relations with Russia and Syria, among others. And it appears that is exactly what the Obama Administration is doing. Starting with Joe Biden’s stated willingness to “push the reset button” on relations with Russia last month, the Administration has made it clear that it wants to move forward on mutual reduction of our nuclear stockpiles and also expressed a willingness to drop the proposed European anti-ballistic missile system in return for a successful Russian effort to help end the Iranian nuclear enrichment program. Today, the New York Times reports that the President has proposed just such a deal in a letter to the Russians.
Furthermore, the U.S. is opening a channel to the Syrians–Iran’s primary Middle Eastern ally. A more neutral Syria and a stronger US-Russian alliance would serve to weaken and isolate Iran, and perhaps make it more amenable to talks. I suspect that the US will soon raise the possibility of cooperation with Iran on matters relating to Afghanistan–where the Iranians played a positive role until the Bush Administration consigned them to the “Axis of Evil” and shut down the cooperative efforts. It is not impossible that a year from now there will be a NATO supply route into Afghanistan through Iran.
I should add that the Obama Administration seems to have made some creative approaches to the Chinese as well–who may now offer an Afghanistan supply through their miniscule (76 kilometer) and sky-scraping border. These sorts of approaches can lead to stronger diplomatic cooperation across the board–in fact, to partnership as a commonplace–including to Chinese help with Iranian nonproliferation.
A major caveat is necessary, as always: The Obama Administration may be making all the right moves, but that’s no guarantee that Iran will respond. There is no knowing the mind of the Mullahs, especially at this moment of economic distress and potential political upheaval in the presidential elections this June.