Friday night, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had a dinner in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss US-Russian relations. As a token, Secretary Clinton brought a yellow box with a button and the words “reset” on both sides in English and Russian.
Apparently, the State Department got the Russian word for “reset” wrong and instead it said “overload”. This is highly symbolic, as incompetence and haste in foreign affairs are the enemies of wisdom, or as the Russian proverb goes, “Measure seven times before cutting”.
On the dinner menu were: Iran, Euro-Atlantic relations, missile defense in Europe, and negotiating a strategic armaments agreement, called START II, which will expire in December – enough to give indigestion to anyone. The working dinner prepares the agenda for the upcoming meeting of the two presidents, Barak Obama and Dmitry Medvedev, which will take place April 2 in London at the G20 economic summit.
The discussion between Secretary Clinton and Mr. Lavrov came on the heels of a meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Brussels which concluded with the decision to resume formal high-level talks in the NATO-Russia Council (NRC). The Council’s work had been suspended following the Russian invasion of Georgia in August 2008.
NATO’s desire to cooperate with Moscow is understandable in view of what’s going on with Afghanistan and Iran. However, part of the problem was “Made in Moscow”: After the “Yankee Go Home” announcement by the Kyrgyzs, Moscow offered to use its cargo planes and air space to resupply Afghanistan. And it is refusing to compromise on Iran. This is Tony Soprano geopolitics: “use my trucks and my garbage dumps – or you can’t do business on my turf”.
Why, then, push the reset button?
Other overtures include the hand delivered secret letter from President Obama to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev asking for Russian cooperation with the United States to halt Tehran’s atomic aspirations, and offering in return that a new missile defense system in Europe would go away.
America’s Eastern European NATO allies view with concern the most recent moves to resume formal NATO-Russia ties. The allies are justified in their concerns about Russia. The “Guns of August” in Georgia demonstrated that Russia tore apart the 1975 Helsinki accords, which guaranteed inviolability of the borders in Europe. Russia also abandoned the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. To quote Mrs. Clinton herself, “We do not recognize any sphere of influence on the part of Russia, or their having some kind of veto power over who can join the EU or who can join NATO”.
Mrs. Clinton should keep in mind that giving up missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic in the face of the Iranian satellite launch is dangerous. In the meantime, U.S. should step up military training and cooperation with Eastern Europeans, boost ties with Ukraine, and reiterate our refusal to recognize secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.