Thursday, August 8, 2013


President Obama has cancelled his meeting with President Putin in Moscow.
He will still attend the G20 in St Petersburg together with his Russian nemesis, where an improvised discreet tete-a-tete cannot be excluded.

The Washington/Moscow dysfunctional relationship is worrisome.  There are many issues which require mutual support or initiative. They range from arms control to Syria, from Iran to Egypt, which lately is in full anti-American mood (military and Morsi supporters can agree on this at least.)  American pundits seem to support President Obama's "snub."  The sordid Snowden saga was not the cause but rather the alibi for skipping a summit which risked to be childless. Besides, the chemistry between the two presidents is an absent commodity.  It is interesting to notice that both Russia and China historically prefer to deal with Republican US presidents, rather than with Democratic ones, who are often considered unpredictable.

Personally I am more in favor of a difficult meeting maintained than an aggravating affront. Diplomacy consists also in talking with the other side even when disapproval looms larger than short-term benefits. Besides, it gives the aggrieved party an opportunity to tell its reading of the story while the international press and (Russian) public opinion are listening. It is difficult for the host to stop his guest in "prosecuting" mode. The absence of tangible results can also backfire and make Putin look as a "cold war left-over."

It is to be hoped that the expected meeting between the US Secretaries of State and Defense with their Russian counter-parts, planned for tomorrow in Washington, will not fall victim to a "tit for tat" retaliation which would be highly unwelcome. Both countries have to face hybrid situations where they need to cooperate. "Pique" is human but it is not a substitute for conducting international affairs. 

What is done and remains unattended might become more difficult to undo later. The patient needs care now.  I hope we do not have to wait until the UN General Assembly for the two leaders to meet. The terror threat, the Syrian implosion, the new Iranian ambiguities, the Afghan requiem, require almost permanent consultation.  Insight can alleviate misunderstanding. The Egyptian "collapse" is an indication of America's diminishing influence in what was almost a "client state."  The same goes for Russia, which finds itself embedded in Assad's folly. Moscow and Washington can afford to agree to disagree if intentions have been made clear. Therefore a potentially unpleasant conversation is preferable to playing "dummy." Last but not least, one should pay attention to the possible changing atmospherics which such a congress can produce. 

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