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Whistling Past the Graveyard

Michael Crowley at Time asks a rhetorical question: "Could the crisis in Crimea spoil Barack Obama’s nuclear diplomacy with Iran?" He answers it himself: "No." First, Crowley notes the Russians have threatened to do precisely that: strike back against the sanctions imposed on them by messing up the Iran talks:

On Wednesday, a senior Russian diplomat suggested as much. Emerging from talks with five other powers and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov seemed to warn that Moscow might grow less cooperative in the effort to halt Iran’s march towards a bomb.

“We wouldn’t like to use these [Iran nuclear] talks as an element of the game of raising the stakes” between Russia and the West, Ryabkov said, according to the Interfax news agency. “But if they force us into that, we will take retaliatory measures here as well.”

Then, Crowley concludes that the Russians are bluffing. They wouldn't dare test Obama, for two reasons:

The good news for Obama is that Russia probably won’t derail an Iran deal. A nuclear Iran isn’t in Russia’s interest. Neither is a potential U.S. military action to prevent it if diplomacy fails. ... Reason one is that a nuclear Iran would be bad for Russia as well as America. ... Reason two is that the failure of diplomacy with Iran would likely lead to the thing Putin hates most: American-led military action.

The third reason Crowley adduces is that someone in the Obama administration told him that it wouldn't be in Russia's interest to link the Iran talks with the crisis in Ukraine:

For those reasons, a senior administration official speaking earlier this month discounted concerns that Russia might undermine the Iran nuclear talks: “When you look at an issue like Iran, we don’t believe that Russia has participated in the [international negotiation] process as some kind of favor to the United States or as some vehicle of improving relationships with us. I think it’s because Russia, like every other world power at the table, has an interest in nonproliferation and not seeing an escalation into conflict in the Persian Gulf.”

The administration would say that, wouldn't they? What else could they say? That their diplomatic house of cards in Europe, the Middle East, and probably Asia has come tumbling down? Because it sure looks that way. And as for the happy talk, there comes a point in every disaster when despair takes the form of excessive optimism; when people act as if the rescuing cavalry were right over the hill, because if they weren't then all would be lost.

Just now, the Syrians boasted that they're not even going to consider Obama's demand for Assad's departure because they've got Moscow in their corner. The rebels have got Obama and Assad has got Putin, and they think that's enough said:

The Syrian regime sees no point in further peace talks in Geneva if the opposition and its Western backers keep insisting that President Bashar al-Assad relinquish power, the deputy foreign minister said.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, Faisal al Mekdad indicated his regime had the backing of longtime ally Russia in its stance on the Geneva talks. The stalled negotiations are one of the major Middle East initiatives now clouded by uncertainty as a standoff escalates between Russia and the U.S. over Moscow's plan to annex Ukraine's Crimean peninsula. The bitter fallout has raised doubts about the viability of recent U.S.-Russian diplomatic cooperation on Syria.

"The issue of [Assad] relinquishing power is now behind us and this is a flagrant interference in Syria's internal affairs," Mr. Mekdad said from his office at the Foreign Ministry in Damascus. "This is completely finished and we are not ready to discuss it at all, at all."

The Syrian defiance could be no plainer. The question Mr. Crowley should ask the "senior administration official" is: why, if Russia is willing to scupper the talks with Syria, should Iran be so sacrosanct?