Welcome to Moscow, Madame Secretary!

Is this "Be Rude to U.S. Diplomats Month?" First, the Netanyahu government embarrasses Joe Biden during his visit to Israel by announcing it will build 1600 new homes in disputed East Jerusalem. Next, the Russian government welcomes Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Moscow with the announcement  that it intends to complete the long-delayed Bushehr ...

Walt-Steve-foreign-policy-columnist20
Walt-Steve-foreign-policy-columnist20
Stephen M. Walt
By , a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.
ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images
ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images
ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images

Is this "Be Rude to U.S. Diplomats Month?" First, the Netanyahu government embarrasses Joe Biden during his visit to Israel by announcing it will build 1600 new homes in disputed East Jerusalem. Next, the Russian government welcomes Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Moscow with the announcement  that it intends to complete the long-delayed Bushehr power reactor in Iran this summer. Clinton told a joint press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov it "would be premature to go forward with any project at this time, because we want to send an unequivocal message to the Iranians," but Lavrov confirmed that Russia was going ahead anyway.

The Bushehr reactor has been a thorny issue between the United States and Russia since the 1990s, although it actually has little to do with Iran's nuclear enrichment program and has always been something of a red herring. But it was hardly a friendly gesture for Moscow to make this announcement during her visit, unless they were trying to score some cheap bargaining points. And it made me wonder: where are everyone's manners?  Diplomacy doesn't always have to be, well-diplomatic -- but this sort of gratuitous slap is both petty and counter-productive.

Is this "Be Rude to U.S. Diplomats Month?" First, the Netanyahu government embarrasses Joe Biden during his visit to Israel by announcing it will build 1600 new homes in disputed East Jerusalem. Next, the Russian government welcomes Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Moscow with the announcement  that it intends to complete the long-delayed Bushehr power reactor in Iran this summer. Clinton told a joint press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov it "would be premature to go forward with any project at this time, because we want to send an unequivocal message to the Iranians," but Lavrov confirmed that Russia was going ahead anyway.

The Bushehr reactor has been a thorny issue between the United States and Russia since the 1990s, although it actually has little to do with Iran’s nuclear enrichment program and has always been something of a red herring. But it was hardly a friendly gesture for Moscow to make this announcement during her visit, unless they were trying to score some cheap bargaining points. And it made me wonder: where are everyone’s manners?  Diplomacy doesn’t always have to be, well-diplomatic — but this sort of gratuitous slap is both petty and counter-productive.

The two situations aren’t identical, of course, given that Israel is a close ally and the recipient of billions of dollars of U.S. aid, and Russia is a country with whom U.S. relations are more competitive. One would therefore expect this sort of thing from Moscow but not from Jerusalem. In both cases, however, the United States should make it clear that it doesn’t appreciate being dissed in this fashion.

To its credit, the Obama administration has shown what Woodrow Wilson called "the self-restraint of a truly great nation, which knows its own power and scorns to misuse it." They haven’t over-reacted to every perceived slight, and press conferences with foreign representatives don’t have to be a complete love-fest. But every now and then, the United States has to demonstrate that this sort of thing has a price tag: the more that other states want from us, the more respect they ought to show. It’s about that simple.

Stephen M. Walt is a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University. Twitter: @stephenwalt

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