As the deadline for negotiations for a nuclear deal with Iran fast approaches, the Obama Administration may be looking for Russian help in threading the needle with Tehran. David Sanger reports for the New York Times:
Under the proposed agreement, the Russians would convert the uranium into specialized fuel rods for the Bushehr nuclear power plant, Iran’s only commercial reactor. Once the uranium is converted into fuel rods, it is extremely difficult to use them to make a nuclear weapon. That could go a long way toward alleviating Western concerns about Iran’s stockpile, though the agreement would not cut off every pathway that Tehran could take to obtain a nuclear weapon.
At least one administration official seems to think that Russia would be a reliable partner in this:
While relations between the United States and Russia have become increasingly difficult in recent months over a range of issues, a senior National Security Council official, while also refusing to discuss details, said on Monday that “it is accurate to say that the Russians have played a very helpful role during these negotiations.”
The official added that Russia had worked with other nations “to put forward creative and reasonable ideas that preserve our objective of cutting off any possible pathway Iran might have to a nuclear weapon.”
“Despite differences of opinion on other foreign policy matters,” the official added, “Russia has remained completely unified with other countries in the negotiations.”
Not being privy to the inside track of how these negotiations are playing out, it’s hard to judge on what basis Obama Administration officials are making these assessments. From the outside looking in, however, this sounds like a whole lot of wishful thinking. Sanger quotes Angela Stent of Georgetown in support of the Administration’s upbeat view of the possibilities of working with Russia, noting that Russia helped broker the deal that “led President Bashar al-Assad to give up his chemical weapons stockpiles.” If you believe that the chemical weapons deal was a success, we’ve got this great bridge for sale you might want to look at…Vladimir Putin and the Russian establishment can be legitimately concerned about having a nuclear Iran on their doorstep, but they are no less interested in pushing the U.S. to the side as they try to disrupt the American post-Cold-War order. If the final shape of the deal resembles the outlines being leaked right now, it will greatly elevate Russia’s role in the Middle East (something Putin clearly craves) and also hand him a huge lever to lean on whenever he wants to make trouble. Can the Administration really not be considering what they might be doing if they go down this road?It’s a natural temptation during negotiations to become so fixated on making a deal that the deal starts to seem like the end, not the means, of policy. Particularly when you consider how much the Administration has sacrificed for the Holy Grail of an Iran deal, you can see how that might be the case here.Of course, it’s not over until it’s over, and November 24th, the deadline for a deal, is not here yet. As U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman tells Sanger, negotiations, like mushrooms, do best in the dark—and that’s fair enough. That all said, these noises emanating from the dark are not altogether reassuring. Let’s hope it’s mushrooms and not mushroom clouds that emerge from these talks.