The Obama administration is moving ahead with a James Baker-style strategy in attempting to persuade Russia to support stronger and stricter sanctions against Iran. This week, the president submitted the "123 Agreement" on civilian nuclear cooperation to Congress. The agreement had been initialed during the Bush administration, but was withdrawn from congressional consideration after the Russia-Georgia war in 2008. It will now take effect unless both houses of Congress pass legislation to block its implementation within a 90-day period.
The agreement matters a great deal to the Russian nuclear industry, which, along with the country's oil and gas complexes, makes up the Kremlin's energy superpower "triad." If the deal goes into force, it would permit U.S. firms to carry out joint nuclear projects with Russian entities, which could open up new markets for Russia's nuclear industries. Moreover, the deal would allow Russia to reprocess American spent nuclear fuel, another potentially lucrative income stream.
By submitting the agreement to Congress now, the Obama administration is hoping to send a clear signal to the Kremlin as to the concrete rewards available to Moscow should Russia support the U.S. in seeking a new round of sanctions against Iran in the U.N. Security Council. In contrast to previous efforts, which focused on vague and amorphous promises of American "goodwill," by proffering a civil nuclear agreement, the Obama team is offering a 30-year cooperation agreement that would generate cold, hard cash for Russia.