The Obama administration has made a major attempt at renewing a cooperative relationship with Russia. At this point, it is less than clear that Russia shares the same “reset”-objective relationship, except on its terms. Trying to appease Russia by capitulating on missile-defense installations in the Czech Republic and Poland only compounds problems we have with Russia in other areas of major interest.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has suggested that Iran could be a litmus test for a renewed relationship. However, Russia’s continued blocking, along with China, of any major economic sanctions against Iran because of Iran’s development of a nuclear weapons program fails the test. Russia, on the other hand, has stalled the completion of the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant, which was started by the Germans in 1975. Continued delay would be a helpful sign if it results in also delaying the “test phase” as well as training Iranians on how to operate the plant. This stretched-out process could take several more years.
Russia also could join with the United States in helping the Iranian people achieve a new form of government. The corrupt Islamic theocracy in Tehran is still the world’s leader in state-sponsored terrorism. It cannot be in Russia’s interest to see a nuclear-armed Iran. It is in Russia’s interest to see a new Iranian regime enter into a third-party enrichment arrangement in which Russia would be the third party.
For the United States to continue negotiations on a new START treaty without Russia’s cooperation on Iran, as well as ignoring both Russian and Chinese strategic modernization programs, makes no sense. Further, giving Russia a free pass on its tens of thousands of tactical nuclear weapons should be of great concern not only to the United States but also to our European allies. It was best said by historian Robert Kagan: President Obama needs to understand with regard to Iran that this is his “tear down this wall” moment with Russia.
Retired Navy Adm. James A. Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.