A Question of Linkage

According to this piece in TIME, Russia may be on the cusp of changing its policy toward Iran and cooperating with the United States on strengthening sanctions – but maybe not.  Although the warmer diplomacy from the Obama administration has been appreciated, there are still many in Russia that don’t like the idea of linking the Iran issue to the cancellation of the missile shield in Eastern Europe.

Aware that it needs Russia’s help, the Obama Administration has been looking for ways to persuade Moscow to support tougher sanctions. In a secret letter in March, Administration sources tell TIME, Obama promised President Dmitri Medvedev that the U.S. would freeze plans to install an anti-missile system in eastern Europe to which Russia strongly objects if Russia helped curtail the Iranian nuclear program. The U.S. has also initiated high-level nuclear-arms reduction talks with Moscow, and President Obama hopes to visit the Russian capital later this month in hopes of advancing — or even signing — a new nuclear pact.

The Russians appreciate all this. “We clearly value this very intense and in-depth dialogue on non-proliferation,” says Ryabkov. But will it buy any help on Iran? When it comes to the missile-defense program, he answers, “We do not think that this linkage is fair,” because Russia believes the anti-missile system Washington had planned to station in Poland and the Czech Republic would not help defend against a potential Iranian threat. Russia loves the revival of arms-control talks with the new Administration, but it sees Iran’s nuclear program as a separate issue — on which it’s holding its cards close.