When is a negotiation not a negotiation? And a rejection not a rejection? Apparently in the Alice in Wonderland exchange of notes and replies between the United States and Russia.
President Obama sent a secret letter to the Russian president suggesting if Iran did not have a nuclear and ballistic missile program the United States wouldn’t need to build a missile defense shield. The Russians replied that they had no interest in trading anything to prevent the United States from building missile defense sites in Europe. They were just dead-sent against it. Once the letter became public both rejected the suggestion that they were negotiating over missile defense as a bargaining chip.
That left most analysts like myself speechless–did they really believe anybody believes this was anything but a clear rebuff to the new president? As I told the USA Today, “I’m not sure what the administration is doing. You can’t negotiate away something that doesn’t exist. It’s just nutty.”
To our dismay, the administration follow-up was even stranger. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama would weigh a number of factors in deciding whether to proceed with a missile-defense system, “including whether or not the system worked and the cost of the system.” By sending signals it does not take missile defense seriously, the White House is only encouraging the Iranians to speed-up their missile and weapons programs and the Russians to demand more quid pro quo in any negotiations with the United States.
Yet, folks continue to believe the administration “hitting the reset button” rhetoric means something. “Michael Mandelbaum, a professor at The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said Obama’s “charm offensive” is not likely to work with Iran, Syria and other U.S. adversaries. But pursuing it with Russia, he said, is the right course….If we could trade these (missile) deployments for serious Russian pressure on Iran” to stop its nuclear ambitions, he said, “that would be a very good trade for us.”
Hello, the Russians have already said “No!” to this. And with good reason…they are selling nuclear technology and air defenses to protect nuclear sites to the Iranians. Even if the Russians said “Yes” the Iranians would say “No.” They have no interest in giving up their weapons program as a favor to the Russians. And even if the Iranians said “Yes” it would take years to negotiate a verification system to prove they really were disarming…and in that time could covertly build missiles and nuclear weapons…and if we stopped building missile defenses now we would be caught with no defense.
I wish the folks at the White House would spend even five minutes watching 33 Minutes, our documentary about the missile threat. If they did they might be less inclined to dangerous diplomacy that leaves America and its allies hostage to foreign missile threats while folks in the administration engage in talks that will likely only make us less, not more safe.