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Overselling START

4:12 PM, May 7, 2010 • By JOHN NOONAN
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This popped up last week, so consider it an "in case you missed it" blurb. Over at Time, Dimitri Simes has a take on the U.S.-Russia treaty negotiations that I consider extremely instructive:

Administration officials describe the arms control talks as a victory for Mr. Obama and a model for winning Russian support for sanctions. As the New York Times reported, they claimed that "Russia backed down" after the President made clear to Mr. Medvedev that the U.S. would not budge on Russia's insistence to establish a link between offensive and defensive strategic systems. Off the record, Administration officials told reporters in Washington that the successor to the START treaty was so advantageous to the U.S. that the Russian media was hesitant to praise it. 

The facts are quite different, however, and the Administration's handling of the agreement evokes strong echoes of history. Coverage of the deal in Russia's state-controlled media has been unenthusiastic not because it is favorable to Washington, but largely because Kremlin officials specifically advised journalists to keep their excitement under control. This is revealingly reminiscent of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev's instructions to the media through the Communist Party Politburo to avoid complimentary reporting on the SALT II Treaty, fearing that it could undermine President Jimmy Carter's efforts to secure Senate ratification of the agreement.

I saw the real Russian attitude toward the treaty while participating in a Russian television program called "Think for Yourself." Broadcast after midnight, it is one of the few remaining shows during which participants can speak relatively freely on sensitive matters. There, prominent Russian specialists who had previously expressed concern about what the new treaty would look like were now endorsing it. According to Leonid Ivashov, a retired three-star general and well-known hard-liner, the treaty was a "real diplomatic success," because the Russian delegation "did not yield." Another well-known hardliner, Sergey Kurginyan, stated bluntly that "Russia could not have an easier partner on the topic of nuclear arms than Obama."

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