David Rothkopf

How much do I hear for one almost new, unused reset button?

With the statement of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov asserting that his country would not support sanctions against Iran and his dismissal of U.S. calls for a negotiating timetable with that country, several important questions are raised. They are: First, how do you like your Iranian nukes? Fried or over-easy? In other words, without sanctions ...

581049_090911_roth8b2.jpg

With the statement of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov asserting that his country would not support sanctions against Iran and his dismissal of U.S. calls for a negotiating timetable with that country, several important questions are raised. They are:

First, how do you like your Iranian nukes? Fried or over-easy?

In other words, without sanctions Iran’s program progresses. That leaves two choices: Israel steps up and takes military action to set back the program or second, we simply roll-over and get used to the world’s largest state-sponsor of terror producing the nuclear weapons the U.S. intel community now believes they are capable of making.

My sense is that the risk of Israeli military moves just went up dramatically … and it was pretty high to begin with. But they will only set back the Iranian program briefly if they do intervene and the resulting turmoil on the international scene is likely to produce plenty of blowback for an Israel that is already more isolated than it has been in forty years.

But on the question at hand, let’s be absolutely clear: Russia has just essentially unilaterally given the green light to Tehran to join the nuclear weapons club. Russia can block action in the Security Council and no effort to, for example, halt oil and gas flows to Iran could work without Russian cooperation. The last chance of stopping the Iranians over the long-term has probably therefore been undercut. As disturbingly, the Russian message is clearly that this is something they actually support. Otherwise, they could have kept their own counsel while negotiations continued. They didn’t have to tip their hand now unless they wanted to scuttle the entire negotiation process. They are saying they believe their approach is the one most likely to work with Tehran. Tehran may even find ways to pretend it is working. But without any effective international levers against the Iranians, they have been given the go-ahead to pursue whatever agenda they choose.

Second, in a related vein, what was Bibi doing in Moscow?

If he was there, as current speculation suggests, to press the Russians to stop shipments of S300 missiles to Iran, that didn’t turn out so well, with Russia standing by its right to engage in arms sales with the Iranians…and then adding a threat of severe consequences if Israel or another state used military measures to stop the Iranian nuclear program. At this point, with the Russians providing so much diplomatic, political and military cover for the Iranian efforts, it is almost tempting to start referring to Tehran’s initiative as a joint Russian-Iranian nuclear program.

Third, will it be NPT 2.0, NPT 1.1 or N2PT?

Once it is recognized that Iran’s entrance into the nuclear club proves (yet again) the impotence of the non-proliferation treaty do we go for an entirely new agreement, a variation on what we have now or just accept that what we have is really the N2PT, which is to say the non-nonproliferation treaty (this is one case where a double negative definitely does not equal a positive.) A completely new deal is, in reality, a non-starter because it would be impossible to get agreement from many nations to opt in. The U.S. view is to renovate the sagging framework of the existing agreement with a much more robust international mechanism for dealing with the creation and disposal of nuclear fuel. But the real question is whether or not there will ever be an enforcement mechanism strong enough to enable multilateral inspections and to ensure multilateral action in the face of proven violations. Actually, Russia has gone quite a long way toward answering that … which in turn raises another question: Just what is the best way to safely dispose of spent nuclear agreements?

Finally, just how much does Russia have to do before they go from being a contentious partner to actually once again being an enemy?

Ok, this is rhetorical. Given that this week Russia became the world’s largest petroleum exporter, we’re not going to be outright enemies with them. After all, we’ve long proven that if you give us a nice meal and pump enough oil into us, we’re easy … or at least flexible. Still, after a rough visit to Moscow by Obama, differences on missile defense, Russia’s calls for a new global currency, Russian efforts to place itself at the center of every emerging global alliance to counterbalance the United States, provocative weapons deals with among others Tehran and Caracas, possible missile shipments on board ships that disappear and reappear, aggression in the near-abroad and torpedoing our efforts to stop Iran short of gaining nuclear weapons, you’ve got to start wondering when we’re going to get the message. They’ll take whatever we have to give but their agenda diverges from ours on a wide array of critical issues and on some, they conflict with us directly and, one might almost say, exultantly.

Oh, we’ll try to put a good face on it. But note: they have given us every incentive to start working hard on our new BIC strategy … which is to say trying to isolate Russia among the leaders of the emerging world by forging stronger ties with China, India and Brazil (among others). This in turn raises the final question in this litany: which is how much do you think we can get on eBay for one virtually new, unused reset button? Perhaps there is a museum somewhere that would like to put it in a display alongside Neville Chamberlain’s umbrella.

 Twitter: @djrothkopf

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola