Sunday, November 28, 2010

A spotlight on patient diplomacy

In the Times' account of the WikiLeaks revelations vis-a-vis Iran, the authors'* admiration for the Obama's administration's response to Iran's nuclear program is palpable:.

[The cables] also offer new insights into how President Obama, determined to merge his promise of “engagement” with his vow to raise the pressure on the Iranians, assembled a coalition that agreed to impose an array of sanctions considerably harsher than any before attempted.
When Mr. Obama took office, many allies feared that his offers of engagement would make him appear weak to the Iranians. But the cables show how Mr. Obama’s aides quickly countered those worries by rolling out a plan to encircle Iran with economic sanctions and antimissile defenses. In essence, the administration expected its outreach to fail, but believed that it had to make a bona fide attempt in order to build support for tougher measures.

A Sense of Urgency

Feeding the administration’s urgency was the intelligence about Iran’s missile program. As it weighed the implications of those findings, the administration maneuvered to win Russian support for sanctions. It killed a Bush-era plan for a missile defense site in Poland — which Moscow’s leaders feared was directed at them, not Tehran — and replaced it with one floating closer to Iran’s coast. While the cables leave unclear whether there was an explicit quid pro quo, the move seems to have paid off.

There is also an American-inspired plan to get the Saudis to offer China a steady oil supply, to wean it from energy dependence on Iran. The Saudis agreed, and insisted on ironclad commitments from Beijing to join in sanctions against Tehran.

Of course there's no indication or consideration whether the sanctions have any chance of inhibiting the Iranians' nuclear development.  But given the leak's revelations of intense pressure from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states as well as Israel for military action against Iran, the strategy is implicitly set off as the best of a set of bad options -- positioning a broad coalition as much to contain a post- or all-but-nuclear Iran via missile defense as to deter a full-scale leap to nuclear weapons production.

The intricate multilateral coalition building chronicled here adds further force to the Times editorial board's conclusion yesterday, drawn in the wake NATO and Russia's support for a jointly developed missile shield and the New Start treaty:
It is probably too much to ask the Republicans to congratulate President Obama on moving European missile defense forward. But their indifference to all that happened in Lisbon is further proof that their opposition to New Start is nothing more than petty obstructionism.
Today's story further highlights just how broad-based and carefully built an edifice is endangered by that scorched-earth partisanship

* David E. Sanger, James Glanz and Jo Becker

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