As presidents Dmitri Medvedev and Obama prepare for a crucial first meeting on the sidelines of next month's G-20 meeting in London, what to do about Iran could be central to their efforts to recalibrate the troubled US-Russian relationship.
While most doubt the issue can derail the negotiations for a new bilateral strategic arms control accord that are expected to take center stage later this year, many see them as the acid test of whether the two countries will be able to form a fruitful partnership for tackling a wider range of global security problems.
"There are a host of questions where tight cooperation between Russia and the US could bring about results," says Viktor Kremeniuk, deputy director of the official Institute of USA-Canada Studies in Moscow. "But we feel that the US needs to change its attitude toward Russia, and begin to treat us as a partner and not as a follower that will simply fall into line. Establishing that kind of relationship is the key to reaching accord on Iran and other burning problems."
Though Russia is not one of Iran's top trading partners (those would be Japan, China, Germany, and Italy) it has become the Islamic Republic's chief supplier of sophisticated weaponry and civilian nuclear technology. Russian security experts insist that these ties are less important than Moscow's principle differences with the US over the appropriate ways to engage with Iran over its known uranium-enrichment program and its suspected drive to obtain nuclear weapons. As a member of the UN Security Council, Russia has supported three rounds of mild sanctions against Iran, but vetoed a set of tougher measures last year.