Monday, 6 July 2009

STARTing the Iran discussion

During the cold war, meetings between the leader of Russia and America over nuclear weapons were a cause for concern across the rest of the world. With the capability to destroy mankind several times over, countries understandably sat with a sense of unease. Twenty years after the cold war has finished and America is still not Russia's best friend by a long shot. When Barack Obama meets President Dmitry Medvedev today he will not have the cheering fans he has come to expect in other countries nor the over-hyped media coverage.

Despite all this the meeting is hugely important. Sure the Russian economy is suffering more than most in the global recession with the steel industry being hit particularly hard but prudence in the good times, an extensive influence over former Soviet states and more nuclear warheads than the rest of the world put together make Russia a global player on the world stage.

Many issues will be discussed in Moscow from relations with Ukraine to environmental concerns but I think the most important issue could come to be Iran. As the West looked on with growing concern at events in Tehran, neither Medvedev or indeed Prime Minister Putin even mentioned the contested election. In fact Russia was the first country to officially receive Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after his re-election.

There is certainly a special relationship between the bordering countries. Russia sees Iran as an entrance into Middle East politics whilst Iran themselves have benefited from Russia defending their interests. Of course the Russians have concerns over a nuclear Iran but don't think sanctions will stop the Islamic Republic and will rather have the effect of enraging hard-liners.

This is probably the most sensible line to adopt when looking at the issue realistically. While America and Russia re-negotiate their own START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) it may be a worthwhile cause trying to restrict the number of nukes Iran is allowed. In return for the world recognising Iran's nuclear ambitions they may well be willing to compromise in terms of the number of warheads or even a U.N. presence at their facilities.

In all honesty this may be stretching my imagination to its outer limits as Russia's relationship with Iran is nothing like say China's with N. Korea; plus Russia has more pressing concerns on it's other, European, borders. Nevertheless one has to question what is the point of having an influence in the Middle East if you're not prepared to use it?