The Lost Art of Letter Writing & Diplomacy
by Charles Lemos, Mon Mar 02, 2009 at 08:43:56 PM EST
According to the New York Times, the President sent a secret and hand written letter to Russian President Dimitri Medvedev last month suggesting that the United States would back off deploying a new missile defense system in Eastern Europe if Moscow would help stop Iran from developing long-range weapons. The Bush Administration argued that these deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic were to protect Europe from Iranian missile threats. The Russians thought otherwise and made their displeasure known threatening to point their still vast nuclear arsenal backs toward the continent.
By linking the deployment of the missile shield in Eastern Europe to Russian cooperation in halting Iran's efforts to build nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles, the Administration is putting the Russians on the spot. The question in Moscow right now must be which relationship do we value more, the American or the Iranian? Alternatively, the Russians might try to figure how to bring the Americans and Iranians to a different plane. Furthermore while the Bush Administration effectively ignored Russian concerns to strategic detriment (recognizing Kosovo was a historic blunder), the Obama Administration is actively seeking to incorporate Moscow as a responsible actor with a role to play on the global stage. There is some risk to trusting Moscow, but the offsets are worth the risk.
Last week, Al Jazeera reported that Iran had conducted a successful test run of its Russian-built nuclear power plant, in the southern port city of Bushehr. Moscow, which is supplying fuel for the reactor, has said the it would not be used for military goals. The plant is expected to come online in the next seven months. According to published reports, Hassan Ghashghavi, an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said on Monday that Sergei Shmatko, the Russian energy minister, will visit Tehran in the next few days. His trip is expected to focus on nuclear energy co-operation between the two countries. It seems this meeting might offer the first clues to any change in the Russo-Iranian relationship.
It's important to note that the Obama Administration is attempting to secure Russian cooperation in preventing Iranian development of long-range missiles not on Iran's development of safe nuclear power though it is likely that Administration will want the Russians to urge Iran to co-operate with the international community and be transparent over its nuclear program. Still the beauty of this hand written letter and the diplomatic effort behind it is that the Administration's overture reformulates the missile issue in a way intended to appeal to the Russians while serving the American strategic goal of preventing Iran from developing its missile technology.
While the Obama letter did not offer a direct quid pro quo, the letter was intended to incentivizing Moscow to join the United States in a common front against Iran's full scale nuclear ambitions. Again from the New York Times:
Russia's military, diplomatic and commercial ties to Tehran give it some influence there, but it has often resisted Washington's hard line against Iran.
"It's almost saying to them, put up or shut up," said a senior administration official. "It's not that the Russians get to say, `We'll try and therefore you have to suspend.' It says the threat has to go away."
Moscow has not responded, but a Russian official said Monday that Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov would have something to say on missile defense to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton when they meet Friday in Geneva. Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev will then meet for the first time on April 2 in London, officials said Monday.
Mr. Obama's letter, sent in response to one he received from Mr. Medvedev shortly after Mr. Obama's inauguration, is part of an effort to "press the reset button" on Russian-American relations, as Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. put it last month. Among other things, the letter discussed talks to extend a strategic arms treaty expiring this year and cooperation in opening supply routes to Afghanistan.
It's a smart move by the Obama Administration. Getting the Russian relationship reset to one of mutual understanding and cooperation is of vital importance to the strategic interests of the United States on issues ranging from the Balkans to Iran to Central Asia to issues of nuclear proliferation and global energy. The President plays the geo-political game well and he is reviving the lost art of letter writing and diplomacy to achieve broad and strategic US aims.