In the Arena

Quid Pro…Quo?

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The Obama Administration is about to announce that it is scrapping plans for anti-missile defense facilities in Poland and Czechoslovakia. This is likely to enrage the already apoplectic neoconservatives, who see the system not merely as an anti-Iranian measure, which is its stated intent, but as another means to put pressure on Russia. Despite what you’ll be hearing from the screechers over the coming days, the Obama Administration is not scrapping anti-missile defense–although there are good arguments that the notion of hitting a bullet with a bullet is sci-fi fantasy and a waste of money. Secretary Gates has favored smaller anti-missile rockets, closer to the source of the threat–and it’s not impossible that, if the science proves plausible, Obama will propose an anti-missile shield closer to Iran, in Turkey or the Balkans.

But there is another aspect of this decision to think about.

It was generally believed that Obama was holding out the anti-missile system as a bargaining chip to be used in return for Russian cooperation on a more rigorous sanctions regime against the Iranian nuclear development program. And so the question is: what has the Administration gotten in return from the Russians for this concession?

We don’t know yet….but I’ve been thinking: The Administration’s agreement to talk with Iran, in the context of the P5+1 negotiations (that is, the United Nations permanent five plus Germany), also seemed a concession to Iran. But what if it wasn’t. What if it’s attempt to paint Iran into a corner?

Here is how the talks might evolve: The U.S. has been insisting on a freeze of Iran’s nuclear fuel production. This has been an awkward demand because Iran has the right to enrich uranium under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty. The demand was made because Iran lied in the past about its attempts to build a bomb–efforts that apparently was abandoned in 2003–and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) asked for all documents related to that program, which Iran has refused to provide since it denies the program ever existed.

No doubt, the Iranians will continue to insist on their right to enrich uranium. The question is, will the US and its European allies accept that right, but insist on a new, more vigorous inspection regime by the IAEA, perhaps a constant, on-the-ground international presence at Iranian nuclear facilities? Is it possible that what the Obama Administration is playing for with the Russians is agreeement to participate in new sanctions down the road, if the Iranians refuse to accept this new deal?

Again, this is just speculation on my part. But I do hope that this anti-missile move has a Russian concession attached to it, perhaps not publicly (just as the US agreement to remove its nuclear missiles from Turkey was not make public during the Cuban Missile Crisis). The Obama Administration’s diplomatic strategy is, I believe, wise and comprehensive–but it needs to show more than public concessions over time. A few diplomatic victories wouldn’t hurt.