“Necessary, but Not Indispensable”

Writing in the New York Times, John Vinocur notes the peculiar silence at the Lisbon NATO summit on the subject of France’s sale of the Mistral warships to Russia.

A coda: the high-pressure gush at Lisbon was successfully slip-streamed by France so that in the midst of all the self-congratulatory talk no one uttered a word about French efforts to sell the Russian Navy two helicopter-carrying assault ships, a NATO first. The French could certainly cheer, Long live Mr. Obama’s reset!

In the process, and to shore up their image of independence, the Frenchoften say interesting things about Russia. Just before Mr. Sarkozy, toAmerica’s displeasure, talked about European security alone with hisGerman and Russian opposite numbers last month, an official French voiceasserted that for all of the allies’ interest in creating a Western”anchorage” for Russia, “fragile” indications of change there did notmake for “assurance there is a permanent strategic turn” under way.

After Lisbon, I asked for a corresponding take on what, after all, noone had talked openly about during the hoorahs at the summit meeting: anevaluation of Russia’s place as a possibly central but conditionalelement in stopping Iran’s nuclear drive. Elegant and ambiguous, here’s acurrent French formulation:

“Necessary, but not indispensable.”