French and U.S. Diplomats Warned Obama Administration About Concessions to Russia on Missile Defense

Share: Logo. Truckee, CA, USA, November 28, 2010 — Classified and secret U.S. State Department cables released by Wikileaks show  French government officials warning a U.S. diplomat that the Kremlin will take advantage of President Obama’s concessions to Russia on missile defense in Central Europe without planning to offer Washington anything in return. The French also warned a high ranking U.S. State Department official, Assistant Secretary Philip H. Gordon, that Russia would not help the United States in dealing with nuclear Iran because such help would not serve the interests of the Kremlin’s ruling elite.
Classified cables released by Wikileaks also show the U.S. Embassy in Moscow warning that it is in the interest of the current Russian leadership to maintain the threat of nuclear weapons in Iran. The same arguments have been advanced by U.S. critics of President Obama’s foreign policy who accuse him of lacking foreign policy experience and naive assumptions about national interests of countries like Russia.
The cables suggest that even among U.S. diplomats there is lot of scepticism about President Obama’s decisions on missile defense, “reset” of relations with Russia, and the Obama Administration’s desire to obtain Moscow’s help in dealing with Iran. The cables appear to confirm that the controversial policy initiatives on missile defense and Russia’s help in Iran originated with President Obama, his Russia advisor, and possibly Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, without much input from professional diplomats at the State Department.
Robert Gates, who also served in this position in the Bush Administration, has a strong interest in using Russia’s help in supplying U.S. troops in Afghanistan. We have suggested earlier that this is the only area in which the interests of U.S. military contractors and the Kremlin coincide. Both want to keep the U.S. troops in Afghanistan for as long as possible. While the U.S. is bogged down in Afghanistan, Russia can more easily try to expand its influence in Eastern and Central Europe.
According to one of the released cables, during a visit Paris in September 2009, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Gordon was told by the French that some in Russia have concluded their interests are served by keeping the west “tied down in an Afghanistan quagmire” and by sustaining the status quo in Iran.
A French government official said that a solution that thwarts Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions and restores Iran as a normal member of the international community could undermine Russian regional and energy interests.
Moreover, the Russian leaders appear to have concluded — a French official warned — Russia can pocket a projected U.S. decision to scale back or abandon the Bush administration’s Missile Defense initiative without paying any cost.
Another cable shows a U.S. diplomat in Moscow warning that as the world’s largest exporter of oil and gas, Russia benefits significantly from the “instability premium” embedded in world oil prices due to tensions with Iran. Even a USD 5 per barrel instability premium would net Russia almost 9 billion U.S. dollars per year for oil and approximately 2-4 billion from its gas exports. Finally, given Iran’s position as the second largest owner of gas reserves — the cable points out — Russia’s gas sector clearly benefits from the lack of international investment in the development of Iran’s natural gas sector.  The cable further suggests that Prime Minister Putin would not agree to any sanctions against Iran that could hurt Russian economic interests.
As with most U.S. State Department cables, the leaked cable from Moscow is signed by the U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation John Beyrle. This does not mean, however, that Ambassador Beyrle actually wrote the cable. They are usually drafted by senior Embassy officials.
As of Sunday morning, the Wikileaks site does not list any secret or classified cables originating from Warsaw. The cables from other U.S. embassies that have been released so far suggest, however, that President Obama made his concessions on missile defense at the expense of security needs of Poland and other U.S. allies in the region without getting any concessions from the Kremlin and despite warnings from U.S. diplomats that his policy assumptions vis-a-vis Russia are unrealistic.
Another cable from Paris appear to suggest that U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates may have taken at face value what Russian Prime Minister Putin had once told him that Iran was Russia’s greatest threat. Secretary Gates told his French counterpart, French Minister of Defense Herve Morin, that Russia is now of a different mind on Iran because of Tehran’s
persistent rejection of international proposals for negotiated
solutions and its concealment of its nuclear facility.
The cable also suggests that in his talks with the French officials, Secretary Gates also seems to be accepting at face value the Kremlin’s objections to the Bush Administration’s missile defense plan: 1. the radar in the Czech Republic would have been so powerful that it could see into Russia; 2. Russia believed that the three-stage Ground-Based Interceptor could have been converted easily to an offensive weapon. The SM-3 missiles in the new approach can only be defensive in nature, however. For these reasons, the U.S. believed partnering with Russia is once again potentially possible, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told the French Defense Minister.