Dmitri Simes, writing in Time magazine:
President Obama has presented the new arms control treaty he signed in Prague on April 8 as a “historic accomplishment” in both nuclear security and U.S. relations with Russia. But there are disturbing signs that the Obama Administration is overselling its progress with Russia, raising unrealistic hopes that Moscow would genuinely help in addressing the danger from Iran, the most likely nuclear threat to America and its allies.
The administration, eager to show foreign policy successes, argues that the new treaty with Russia, which calls on both sides to reduce their nuclear forces to 1500 warheads, reflects a significantly improved relationship that will help to deliver Moscow’s support for strong sanctions against Tehran. But it is not clear that ties between the White House and the Kremlin have improved quite that much. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev’s performance in Argentina, right after the nuclear summit, demonstrates that ties between Washington and Moscow fall well short of partnership. “If somebody is bothered” in America by Moscow seeking a greater role in Latin America, he said, “we want to spit on that.” His statement led the news on Russian state television. Later in his “Spit Speech,” the Russian President made clear that his government does not favor “paralyzing, crippling sanctions” — the only sanctions that could deter an Iranian regime determined to have a nuclear weapons capability.
Despite this, Administration officials describe the arms control talks as a victory for Mr. Obama and a model for winning Russian support for sanctions. As the New York Times reported, they claimed that “Russia backed down” after the President made clear to Mr. Medvedev that the U.S. would not budge on Russia’s insistence to establish a link between offensive and defensive strategic systems. Off the record, Administration officials told reporters in Washington that the successor to the START treaty was so advantageous to the U.S. that the Russian media was hesitant to praise it.
The facts are quite different, however, and the Administration’s handling of the agreement evokes strong echoes of history.