Obama Persuades Russia on Iran

The first day of President Barack Obama’s trip to Russia yielded an important agreement between Cold War foes to cut their strategic nuclear arsenals by at least a quarter.

That’s important — not only because, as The New York Times reported, it’s “a first step in a broader effort intended to reduce the threat of such weapons drastically and to prevent their further spread to unstable regions.” It’s also important for the security of Israel.

Prior to leaving for Moscow, Obama reiterated that Iran has a short window of opportunity — the “coming weeks and months” — to show it is serious about responding to his overtures for talks, or else face sanctions. Sanctions, though, have little teeth if Russia and China are not on board. As Zvi Bar-el wrote in Haaretz last September: “Iran assumes Russia and China will continue to protect it from embargoes.”

President Obama also said, as the Times reported, “the United States now has more leverage to pressure Iran because he had succeeded in getting ‘countries like Russia and China to take these issues seriously.'”

Flash-forward a day, and we already see tangible evidence of that success.

“After hours of meetings at the Kremlin,” the Times writes, “the presidents agreed to conduct a joint assessment of any Iranian threat and presented a united front against the spread of nuclear weapons.”

The paper continues:

Mr. Obama hailed the arms agreement as an example for the world as he pursued a broader agenda aimed at countering — and eventually eliminating — the spread of nuclear weapons, a goal he hopes to make a defining legacy of his presidency.

While the United States and Russia together have 95 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, Mr. Obama also views Russia as an influential player in deterring nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.

“This is an urgent issue, and one in which the United States and Russia have to take leadership,” Mr. Obama said. “It is very difficult for us to exert that leadership unless we are showing ourselves willing to deal with our own nuclear stockpiles in a more rational way.”

Mr. Medvedev expressed willingness to help fight the proliferation of nuclear weapons in places like Iran and North Korea. “It’s our common, joint responsibility, and we should do our utmost to prevent any negative trends there, and we are ready to do that,” Mr. Medvedev said.

And the U.S. president is giving the Russians every incentive to follow through. As Haaretz reports:

Obama, on a visit to Moscow on Tuesday, called for the United States and Russia to overcome Cold War mistrust and forge a true global partnership, saying that the U.S. wouldn’t need to deploy a missile defense system in Europe, a move Russia opposes, if Russia helped to bring the Iranian nuclear threat to an end. 

“If the threat from Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile program is eliminated, the driving force for missile defense in Europe will be eliminated,” Obama said in remarks prepared for delivery to graduates from Moscow’s New Economic School. 

If President Obama didn’t look into Medvedev’s eyes and see his soul, it may be because he’s more focused on a geopolitical strategy for regional stability — with Israel as a prime beneficiary.

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