March 6, 2009
By Peter Brookes
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will get her chance to mash
the Obama administration's "reset button" on US-Russian relations
when she parachutes into Geneva to meet with Russian Foreign
Minister Sergei Lavrov tomorrow.
But while better relations with Russia, a resurging major power,
are a laudable goal and can support US interests, we have to make
sure that this notion of a "reboot" in relations doesn't equate to
a "rollover" on our part.
Some early signs are troubling.
First is the Iranian nuclear dossier. As the clock ticks down to
Iran's atomic coming-out party, the new administration still lacks
a distinct policy of its own - and is in a panic for help from
anyone with influence in Tehran.
Just this week, it was revealed the White House hinted in a
secret letter to the Kremlin last month that it might can our
anti-Iranian missile-defense plans in Eastern Europe in exchange
for Moscow's help in halting Tehran's atomic aspirations.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev this week acknowledged the
note - but refused any linkage between Washington shelving missile
defense and Moscow's dealing with Tehran.
Sure, Russia has ties into Iran, including lucrative arms sales
worth billion of dollars and the first in a possible string of
nuclear-reactor contracts and nuclear-fuel-supply deals worth
billions more. But with the White House leaning so far forward in
its stirrups, Medvedev may well be inclined to see if Washington
will pitch missile defense without any concrete
promises -- or results -- from Moscow on Iran.
Of course, abandoning this missile-defense initiative would
leave the United States naked (aside from the threat of massive
retaliation with our own nukes) in the face of a growing Iranian
nuclear and ballistic-missile threat.
Another troubling sign is the willingness of US-led NATO to
restart formal talks with the Russians in the NATO-Russia
The Bush administration put these talks on ice after Russia's
invasion of Georgia last year. NATO said talks wouldn't resume
until after the Russians reduced their troop levels
in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two separatist provinces within
Georgia, to pre-conflict levels. This still hasn't
The Russians have been playing hardball elsewhere, too. They had
a strong hand in getting Kyrgyzstan to close a US airbase> there
that was critical to supplying US and NATO forces in Afghanistan,
allowing supply lines to avoid transiting dangerous areas of
Despite all this, the Obama administration, with the consent of
other major NATO states, looks set to agree to resume high-level
NATO-Russia ties in the near future in an air of "business as
You can only imagine how some of the former Soviet satellites --
the Poles, Czechs, Georgians, Balts and others who are now US
friends and/or allies -- must see this line of White House
Moreover, some critics here fear that the new administration, in
a mindless effort to distinguish itself from the Bush team, has
fallen into a blind obedience to diplomacy.
Clinton's confab with Lavrov tees up Obama's meeting with
Medvedev next month in London at the G20 economic summit - and
provides a chance for initial frank talk on important issues with
She should seize the opportunity -- seeking Russian cooperation
on issues of mutual interest such as stabilizing Afghanistan,
capping Iran's nuclear program and preventing fresh nuclear
But Clinton should also assure Lavrov - and thus reassure our
friends and allies in the neighborhood - that Washington won't just
acquiesce to Moscow despite a desire for an up-tick in ties.
Sure, we want better relations with Russia -- but not at the
expense of our allies, our friends or our own interests. And that
makes any strategic realignment with Moscow more of a far-off hope
than a near-term reality.
Peter Brookes is senior fellow for
National Security Affairs in the Davis Institute at The Heritage
First Appeared in the New York Post
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will get her chance to mash the Obama administration's "reset button" on US-Russian relations when she parachutes into Geneva to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov tomorrow.
American Leadership Initiative of the Leadership for America Campaign
Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
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