For years, the United States has played Charlie Brown to Russia's Sally. Every time it appeared as if Russia were about to soften its opposition to tougher sanctions against Iran, Russia would pull away, leaving the U.S. frustrated and unfulfilled. Interests, financial and security, diverged too much. Today, the Obama administration insists that its "reset" strategy is bearing real fruit. A senior administration official, briefing the White House press corps on the Medvevev-Obama bilateral meeting in New York this afternoon, said that post-meeting remarks by Medvedev about the inevitability of sanctions represented a "real change" in Russia's position.
"I told his Excellency, Mr. President, that we believe we need to help Iran to take a right decision," Medevev said, according to the official transcript. "As to also have sanctions, Russia's belief is very simple,and i stated it recently. Sanctions rarely lead to productive results. But in some cases sanctions are inevitable." Obama and Medvevev spent nearly 60 minutes talking on Iran, and the discussions included "strategies" for containing the nuclear threat, including increased intelligence cooperation between the U.S. and Russia.
What might have prompted Medvedev casual shoulder shrug on sanctions? Last week's decision to change U.S. missile defense strategy in Europe? The official, reading reporters' doubt, said that a quid-pro-quo never came up in U.S. discussions. It was more, he said, a factor of President Obama's having convinced Medvedev that the U.s. and Russia "share common interests" on a variety of measures, including Iran. A reporter pointed out that the Bush administration used the same language to describe its relationship with Iran, but the Obama official said that never before had a Russian leader been as open about the possibility of sanctions. "I really don't see any daylight between us vis-a-vis Iran," the official said.
We shall see if Russia interprets the meeting the same way.
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is a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.