Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said: “At most, I think the shelving of the Bush [plan] in Europe will remove an irritant in the U.S.-Russian relationship and allow the two sides to focus on areas of common concern and interest.”
However, Andrew Kuchins, director of the Russia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that, “while the decision is not mainly about Russia, to say it has nothing to do with Russia is simply disingenuous.”
“If Russia does not come on board on Iran,” he said in reference to tougher U.N. sanctions sought against Tehran for refusing to come clean on its nuclear program, “then essentially it means the ‘reset’ is over.”
The Obama administration has said repeatedly that it wants to reset the U.S.-Russia relationship after serious tensions during the Bush administration.
“Russian intransigence on Iran will turn Congress, rightly or wrongly, totally against arms-control deals and WTO deals with them, and I hope they have no illusions about that,” Mr. Kuchins said.
“I don’t think the Kremlin is as unabashedly pleased about this so-called ‘concession’ as conventional wisdom holds, nor that their default response is simply to pocket the concession and not at least try to create impression of some quid pro quo on Iran,” he said.
Jackson Janes, executive director of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, said the debate about whether Mr. Obama “caved in” to the Russians “will unfortunately be caught up in a lot of other political wrangling.”
“However that unfolds in Washington over the coming months - and much will depend on Russia’s response to this move - there ought to be an energized debate in Europe about its ability to produce a viable defense strategy against threats,” he said.
So far, the only thing Moscow has indicated it would do differently because of Mr. Obama’s decision is not to base short-range missiles along its western border, close to Poland and the Czech Republic.
Russia vehemently opposed Mr. Bush’s plan despite assurances from Washington - and from Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who was appointed by Mr. Bush - that the proposed shield and interceptors were not aimed at Russia. Moscow was convinced that the Iran threat was a pretext that would have allowed the U.S. to attack Russia and countered any Russian response.
Mr. Kuchins said that, apart from the debate about Russia, “there is significant positive political payoff with countries like Turkey and the Middle East states, which have become significantly concerned about Iran and will be pleased to see we are taking serious measures that benefit their security - and this is not just Israel.”
“That may well undercut some of Moscow’s aspirations to be more significant player in the Middle East,” he said.