The Biggest Challenges Facing Hillary Clinton in Russia

Iranian nukes, NATO weapons, and don't forget Middle East peace

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Russia this week meeting with Russian officials to discuss a host of issues important to Europe and the Middle East. European officials have also flown in for talks on the struggling Middle East peace plan. Here are the challenges facing Clinton's diplomacy and what they'll mean for the world.

  • Clinton: How I'll Modernize NATO  In a speech, Secretary Clinton articulated a "common vision for the most successful alliance in history." She stressed a willingness to engage threats from non-state actors, particularly cyberterrorists and pirates off the Horn of Africa, and heralded NATO participation in nation-building missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Many threats we face have little or no respect for borders. Whether we're battling piracy, or the menace of terrorism, or the prospect of weapons proliferation, we must be prepared to address new dangers regardless of where they originate." She also emphasized missile defense and energy security.
  • Nuclear Non-Proliferation: Pointless  Foreign Policy's Stephen Walt sighs, "Both sides will still be left with plenty of nuclear warheads, so the core strategic situation between the two counties won't be affected very much." However, he says an agreement could still have important symbolic value, by showing that the U.S. and Russia care at least somewhat about non-proliferation, and also by proving Clinton's ability to close diplomatic deals.
  • Deter Russia's Nuclear Power in Iran  The Weekly Standard's Gary Schmitt fumes at Russia's announcement that it will go ahead with plans to help Iran with construction of a nuclear power plant. He insists that Clinton rebuke Russia for the move. "Of course Putin meant to embarrass Clinton.  But when it comes to Moscow, the administration happily turns the other cheek."
  • Time to Decide Israel-Palestine Path  The Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman says Clinton must choose between looking past Israel's settlement growth or pressuring the Israel government to halt. "Those in the peace camp wonder if the natural impulse to defuse the tension will lead Clinton to paper over the Israeli government’s plans for continuing settlement construction in Jerusalem — or whether she will continue her challenge to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to demonstrate his commitment to peace."
  • Some START Progress?  Politico's Laura Rozen isn's optimistic about the strategic arms reduction treaty (START) between Russia and the U.S., which is designed to reduce military arms in both nations as part of the ongoing deescalation of tensions between the two nations. Rozen notes that the Obama administration hopes to have this done by the end of 2009 but is still well behind.
This is now probably the biggest question in the diplomacy of the major powers. And one real uncertainty for the administration is whether you can separate the Chinese and the Russian positions. On the surface, the Russian position looks a lot more constructive than the Chinese. The Russians have said there can be a time when sanctions are necessary, but it's clear that they want a pretty watered down set of sanctions and a new resolution.
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