Courtesy Reuters

An Uncertain Reset

Can the United States and Russia Find a Common Language?

Predictably, both Russia and the United States have portrayed the recent summit in Moscow as a success. Indeed, the summit did produce some positive signs: a resumption of serious arms control negotiations after years of neglect, an agreement on U.S. military overflights of Russian territory to Afghanistan, and the creation of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission, a structure that could give the relationship a high-level institutional focus.

But much more is needed for the "reset" to be real. Most important, the United States must overcome what I first described in an essay from October/November 2007 as "the unmistakable impression that making Russia a strategic partner has never been a major priority." This will require not only new vocabulary -- such as "reset" -- but a new sense of priority toward Russia from the Obama administration.

Such an approach need not come at a cost to U.S. interests or values. But it will require an honest recognition that, since U.S. and Russian interests are not identical,Moscow is unlikely to accommodate Washington's concerns unless it sees something for itself in return.

The United States' priorities with respect to Russia are Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea. Regarding Iran, neither Washington nor Moscow wants to see the clerical regime develop nuclear weapons. However, Iran is a major Russian trading partner and -- unlike Turkey, a U.S. ally -- offered no encouragement to separatist movements in the North Caucasus or support for pipelines that bypass Russia. Some in the Russian government fear that a Western rapprochement with Iran could disadvantage Moscow if Iranian gas were to become available for export to Europe. Although Russian officials strongly oppose any military strike against Iran's nuclear installations, they privately acknowledge that such an attack could benefit Russia by increasing energy prices and creating a global backlash against the United States.

As for Afghanistan, Russia does not want to see the Taliban defeat U.S. and NATO forces and the country descend into

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