Obama in Moscow, and Tehran

There’s a very strong case to be made for tempering expectations regarding U.S.-Russia relations. Nikolas Gvosdev, in particular, dials in on the key faultline, which has to do with Iran and energy. But the energy in question is gas, not nuclear.

Which is why this, from Christian Brose, on the agreement to agree on a START follow-on agreement, misses the point:

Obama has just invested a lot of time and effort to secure an agreement to reduce U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles to a level that could still annihilate the world several times over. This may be an achievable goal, but it is hardly a pressing one — notwhen Iran is speeding toward a weapon of its own, and the United Statesand Russia cannot seem to find much agreement on how to proceed onthat.

Admittedly, the deal is an incremental and leisurely first step, to paraphrase Jeffrey Lewis.

But for his part, as this interview (via David Rothkopf) makes clear, President Barack Obama understands the START follow-on in the context of the U.S. and Russia’s NPT obligations — that is, as a way to restore credibility to the NPT, thereby encouraging non-weapons states to continue abiding by it as well. In other words, the deal has as much to do with the effort to engage Iran independently of Russia as it does with using U.S.-Russia bilateral relations to pressure Iran.

Ultimately, that will require conceding to the Iranians what they currently rely on Russia to protect, namely the ability to enrich uranium under some mutually acceptable arrangement that does not involve sanctions. That seemed to be the direction the Obama administration was moving in before the Iranian election crisis. Whether it will remain on the agenda remains to be seen. (I’m still of two minds on the question, but such is my fate for being born under the sign of Gemini.)

Finally, as Joshua Pollack at Arms Control Wonk notes, the START follow-on did not require any clarification from the Obama administration on its missile defense intentions.

Obama comes home with what he wanted, and didn’t give much up to get it. Seems like a pretty successful trip to me.