To remedy this incentive structure, the administration has embarked on a public campaign for START, subtly making its point with a hot-button issue: Iran.
The connection between START and Iran rests on this truth: U.S./Russian relations have improved in the Obama era, and with that progress have come deliverable advances in keeping Iran's nuclear program at bay. Russia sided with the U.S. in supporting sanctions on Iran, and President Dmitry Medvedev canceled a contract to sell missiles to Iran. Having opposed a missile defense system in Eastern Europe (which is seen as a bulwark against Iranian nukes), Russia now is cooperating with NATO states. Persuading Russia to do these things was seen as a key to ratcheting up pressure on Iran, and, by building a better rapport with Russia, the administration succeeded.
The administration has made the case, several times this month, that the New START treaty is a key to maintaining good relations with Russia, and that, after winning such significant victories on Iran policy, it's important that President Obama can show Medvedev that he's able to hold up his end of the bargain.
In an op-ed published Friday in The Wall Street Journal, Vice President Biden touched on the Iran argument:
New Start is also a cornerstone of our efforts to reset relations with Russia, which have improved significantly in the last two years. This has led to real benefits for U.S. and global security. Russian cooperation made it possible to secure strong sanctions against Iran over its nuclear ambitions, and Russia canceled a sale to Iran of an advanced anti-aircraft missile system that would have been dangerously destabilizing.
At a press conference this past Sunday, President Obama was asked whether Kyl's resistance is purely political. After describing his talks with Kyl, Obama brought up Iran:
...there's another element to this. We've instituted Iran sanctions. Thanks to the work of the EU, thanks to the work of Russia, thanks to the work of some of our other partners, these are the strongest sanctions we've ever implemented. But we have to maintain sustained pressure as Iran makes a calculation about whether it should return to negotiations on its nuclear program. This is the wrong time for us to be sending a message that there are divisions between the P5-plus-1, that there's uncertainty.
And in that background briefing on the same day, that senior administration official made the same case, telling reporters:
In order for the President to be able to do that and to have that credibility that he can deliver, he has to be able to deliver on his commitments too. And I think it's important to remember, on the Iran part in particular, that was something that we pressed the Russians to do, right? We don't have billions of dollars of trade in arms with Iran -- the Russians do. It was much more costly to them, both financially and to their geopolitical position in the Middle East, to put those sanctions in place. President Medvedev has been very blunt about that in his conversations with President Obama.
President Medvedev then went the extra mile and unilaterally cancelled the S-300 contract. And I want to just be very clear about that -- that would have been a highly destabilizing event for those S-300s to be transferred to Iran. Medvedev has delivered on this. And in order to continue this relationship, we have to be able to deliver on the things that the President has said.
The administration is not making this Iran argument gaudily, by any means, and it's perhaps worth noting that it could do so if it felt stylistically inclined.