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Obama's "Diplomatic Coup" in Russia Over Iran's Nukes?

Yeah Obama! (And don't mention the betrayal of Poland and the Czech Republic over the cancelling of an antimissile system.)

There's quite a bit of happy talk on President Obama's potential "diplomatic coup" - possible progress toward convincing Russia to condemn Iran's hidden nuclear program at the United Nations - in reporter Clifford Levy's Monday "News Analysis," which goes under the contradictory headline, "Warmer U.S.-Russia Relations May Yield Little on Action Toward Iran."


Levy's report from Moscow didn't even mention opposition from America's allies Poland and the Czech Republic over the administration's plans to cancel an antimissile system in Eastern Europe, a move that pleased a newly imperialist Russia, but a movethat even the Times' pro-Obama foreign policy columnist Roger Cohen called "the rough equivalent for the Poles of their announcing concessions to a U.S. foe on 9/11."


The Kremlin has long responded to proposals for tougher sanctions against Iran with arms folded and a scowl. Last week, that attitude began softening, bringing the Obama administration closer to a diplomatic coup in its efforts to contain the Iranian nuclear program.


But the relatively conciliatory statements by Russia's president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, present an opening to the administration that could turn out to yield little. Russia, a neighbor of Iran, is far more intertwined with it geopolitically than any other world power, and has more concerns about upsetting relations.


Russia is also reluctant to mass the might of the United Nations Security Council against a single country, especially at Washington's behest. That in part explains why Russia has historically sought to dilute sanctions, as it did in previous rounds against Iran.


Moreover, the Kremlin might go slowly because it senses that in a world where it has less influence than it did during Soviet times, it can use its veto power in the Security Council to ensure attention and respect. If Russia were to accede right away to calls for a crackdown, it would risk becoming just another country lining up behind the United States. The Kremlin's pride would almost certainly not allow that.


Already, Russia's foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, appears to be positioning Russia to back away from the supportive stance suggested by Mr. Medvedev's comments.


Levy painted Obama's foreign policy toward Russia as an early success, as a "reset" from the evident failures of the Bush years.


Still, Moscow's overall outlook toward the United States has unquestionably warmed in recent months, largely because of President Obama's drive to "reset" relations, and that could ultimately be pivotal.


Mr. Obama's decision this month to cancel an antimissile system in Eastern Europe proposed by the Bush administration has achieved a particularly galvanizing effect. The Kremlin had deemed the antimissile system a direct threat to Russia, though the United States had said it was intended to protect against attacks from countries like Iran.


Mr. Medvedev regularly expressed his appreciation for Mr. Obama last week, drawing a contrast with the tensions between Moscow and Washington in the later Bush years. Obama administration officials cited Mr. Medvedev's remarks as proof that their attempt to engage Moscow was paying off, and could lead to action against Iran.