By Michael Goodwin
March 12, 2022 | 10:29pm
Some stories make so little sense that all you can do is scratch your head. Others are so infuriating that you want to pull your hair out. Then there are those that are so outrageous your head feels as if it will explode.
This story provokes all three reactions.
It starts with a strange, little-known fact: Russia is acting as a go-between for the United States in nuclear talks with Iran.
When I first read that, I thought it couldn’t possibly be true. With Russia then massing troops on the Ukraine border, I assumed that even the Biden White House couldn’t be foolish enough to trust Vladimir Putin to do anything in good faith or certainly anything in America’s interest.
Unfortunately, the story was true, and even more alarming, Russia continues to direct the nuclear talks with America’s approval while its army simultaneously turns Ukraine’s cities into rubble, mercilessly killing civilians and creating the largest refugee crisis since World War II.
In response, the US and Europe have sanctioned Russia’s economy and Putin’s cronies. The West is also supplying weapons to Ukraine and helping to care for more than 2 million refugees.
But shouldn’t America also sever the relationship with Putin in the Iran talks? After all, since we don’t trust him in Ukraine and want to isolate him, why should we trust him on whether Iran gets nuclear weapons?
It always defied any meaning of common sense for Biden to believe Putin cares about safeguarding America and our allies, including Israel, in negotiations with the mad mullahs. So now is the time to correct the error. Russian continues to act as a go-between for the US in the Iran nuclear talks despite Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
The new axis of evil
On the chance that Biden and his team somehow missed the voluminous evidence of Putin’s depraved nature, Russia’s alliance with Iran in Syria and elsewhere ought to have ended any consideration of him as an honest broker.
Because of the Iran-Russia alliance, developments last week now look inevitable. First came reports saying the nuke talks were complete and the deal could be signed any day, which set off jubilant boasts from the anti-American side.
A video carried by Real Clear Politics shows Russia’s chief negotiator, Mikhail Ulyanov, praising his Iranian “colleagues,” saying they “are fighting for [their] national interest like lions. They fight for every comma, every word, and as a rule, quite successfully.”
He added: “I am absolutely sincere in this regard when I say that Iran got much more than it could expect. Our Chinese friends were also very efficient and useful as co-negotiators.”
There you have it, the new axis of evil — Russia, China and Iran — working together on the nuke pact. Who, pray tell, was fighting for our side?
And what exactly did Iran get?
There was another twist, too, also involving the Russians. Days later the talks hit a wall because Putin added a demand that a final nuke deal exempt Russia’s trade with Iran from sanctions the US and Europe imposed over Ukraine. Russia’s chief negotiator Mikhail Ulyanov praised the Iranians for fighting like “lions” in the nuclear negotiations.Photo by JOE KLAMAR/AFP via Getty Images
It was a clever ploy, knowing how badly Biden wants the Iran deal and the oil supply it would put on the market. The initial White House response was that there is no linkage between the sanctions on Russia and the nuke talks, but that is unlikely to be the final word if the talks remain stalled.
Regardless, the reality is that the two tracks that were supposedly parallel and unrelated — the Ukraine war and sanctions on one and the Iran talks on the other — have suddenly merged. The deadlock would count as good news if the entire Iran deal is scuttled as a result but the White House would still need to explain its outrageous arrangement with Putin.
US hunger for a deal
In terms of the broad facts, we know what they knew and when they knew it.
The use of Russia as a broker with Iran turns out to have been going on for many months and predates Putin’s massing of troops on the Ukraine border.
But even after he started moving his military into position for the invasion, Biden still trusted Putin to deliver a verifiable deal that would keep Iran from getting nukes.
For example, last Jan. 24, NATO announced it was bracing for a possible Russian invasion, saying “Allies are putting forces on standby and sending additional ships and fighter jets to NATO deployments in eastern Europe . . . as Russia continues its military build-up in and around Ukraine.”
Denmark, Spain, France and others began mobilizing troops, ships and fighter jets. The Pentagon said 8,500 American troops were put on “high alert” for deployment abroad.
Yet that same week, Secretary of State Tony Blinken urged Russia to move the nuclear talks forward. NBC News quoted Blinken saying that “Russia shares our sense of urgency, the need to see if we can come back into mutual compliance in the weeks ahead, and we hope that Russia will use the influence that it has and relationship that it has with Iran to impress upon Iran that sense of urgency.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken pushed for the Iran nuclear talks to go forward as Russia continued to amass troops at the Ukrainian border.Photo by MANUEL BALCE CENETA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Worse, that desperate hunger for a deal did not change even after Putin’s February invasion, which coincided with a speech where he said Ukraine was not even a country and ominously referred to other former Soviet lands that are now free, including some in NATO.
Even now, despite the charge that Putin is committing war crimes and despite warnings of a World War III and nuclear Armageddon,Biden continues to let Putin negotiate terms with Iran on our behalf.
Biden got played again
The surface explanation of why is simple: Iran refuses to meet directly with American negotiators, so a go-between was needed. But why Russia?
The most likely reason is that Iran and Russia maneuvered the US into endorsing the Russian role. Count that as yet another foreign policy screwup by Biden, Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, a k a the Three Blind Mice.
Still, the head-exploding question is why didn’t Biden stop the arrangement when Putin launched the Ukraine invasion? And why doesn’t he stop it now as the growing slaughter in Ukraine horrifies the world? President Biden letting Russia run the nuclear talks with Iran makes the US seem weak.AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
It’s possible he wants to preserve a relationship in case Putin wants an off-ramp from Ukraine. But Putin increasingly seems to have a different interpretation, namely that Biden is weak and easily deterred from confrontation.
If so, we could end up with the worst outcome in both cases: no end to the bloodletting in Ukraine and a bad nuke deal with Iran.
Meanwhile, Biden keeps in place his curbs on American energy production as he rummages through the dictators’ phonebook for sources of gas and oil to replace the Russian fuel he embargoed.
Of course, our president, as Robert Gates famously said, has been “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
He’s also the same man about whom Barack Obama said: “Do not underestimate Joe’s ability to f–k things up.”
Why should this time be different?