Moscow and Washington should start by joining forces against Iran
Senator Carl Levin, an influential Democrat who chairs the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee, is aiming to improve Russian-American relations. He says that Moscow and Washington have a number of important interests in common – one of them being to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Senator Carl Levin, an influential Democrat who chairs the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee, is aiming to improve Russian-American relations. He intends to promote the idea of developing cooperation with Moscow – not only on Capitol Hill, but also within the US Administration. The experts we approached for comments suggest that Washington has launched a complex maneuver in the missile defense area, and Russia’s response may be positive.
So far, the question of building America’s missile shield has not been among the priorities for the new Obama Administration. President Barack Obama hasn’t publicly disavowed his predecessor’s pet project; but he has promised to study all the pros and cons before the system is deployed.
The plans for installing ten interceptor missiles in Poland and a powerful radar station in the Czech Republic will be considered later this year within a defense policy review that takes place every four years. Many Russian, Polish, and Czech analysts are still confident that the US missile defense system will be deployed in Europe. Construction of the bases is scheduled to start this year. This makes Senator Levin’s remarks all the more interesting. In his opinion, Russia and the USA have a chance to make a “real breakthrough” in relations by cooperating on missile defense.
Senator Levin noted that Moscow and Washington have a number of important interests in common – one of them being to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. “Iran would see that Russia and the USA are uniting to defend against the Iranian threat… I don’t think it’s possible to over-estimate the consequences of this potential partnership,” said Levin. He admitted that he has already discussed this issue privately with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Obama’s aides, and they apparently responded positively to the proposal.
Levin’s statement may be perceived as a sign of positive shifts in the Obama Administration’s emerging Russia policy. Then again, Levin essentially borrowed an idea that originated in Russia. Professor Alexei Bogaturov, deputy director of the Institute for International Security Studies (Russian Academy of Sciences), notes that Russia’s stance, as expressed last year, maintained that the problem of containing Iran should be considered within the context of Russian-American or Russian-NATO cooperation.
Bogaturov suggests that a return to productive discussion of the Iran issue in Russian-American talks would be realistic – especially since Obama has stated publicly that his priorities include “effective development of American policy on Iran” and “attempting to establish more productive relations with a more confident Russia.”
As Bogaturov notes, Washington should bear in mind that Russia is likely to keep insisting that the missile defense issue should be at the center of this discussion. “If the Americans are prepared to accept that, I think the discussion could end up being quite productive, on various aspects of the Iran situation,” says Bogaturov. But if the question of deploying missile defense system elements in Europe is once again discussed separately from containing Iran’s potential military nuclear ambitions, no progress is likely.
Experts suggest that Levin’s statement could be part of a complex maneuver by Washington, with the outcome unclear as yet. At any rate, it is likely to depend on the Americans – since Russian diplomacy has already done everything it can do to encourage the Americans to engage in dialogue on missile defense.
Judging by statements from US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, one of the most important differences between Moscow and Washington involves their assessments of how soon the Iranians might acquire nuclear arsenals capable of posing a threat to Europe and Russia.