Saturday, March 21, 2009

Using Public Diplomacy and Old Time Diplomacy: Comparing Russia and Iran

Veterans of U.S. Diplomacy Try to Revive Nuclear Arms Talks with Russia

By Andrew E. Kramer

New York Times


Obama's Message to Iran Is Opening Bid in Diplomatic Drive

By Helene Cooper and David E. Sanger

New York Times

President Obama's use of videotaped messages to campaign for talks between the United States has been unseen in the past eight years. These messages are not merely seen by one leader but by the entire world, including the Iranian people.  His message appears conciliatory and indicates respect for the leader.  Instead of drafting a propagated message on the evils of Iran and the "war on terror," his use of media captures an understanding of Iranian society. It also demands an answer.  It puts the Ayatollah in a position that will be difficult to escape.  It drives the leaders to meet and discuss policies rather than chastise a nation into supporting policies.

The message on Thursday is not just an attempt to build bridges with Iran but to unify the United States and Russia.  Russia refuses to apply sanctions against Iran because the US has not attempted to build relations to address the issue.  Now that the US appears to be fully committed to talks with Iran, Iran's failure to meet could prompt Russia to break economic ties.  These calls for discussions with Iran are not merely directed to their leader but to the world, especially Putin.

A few weeks ago, the Obama administration sent a letter to the Russian leader regarding nuclear arms.  This past week the Cold War leaders met with officials in Russia in an attempt to remove all nuclear weapons. The idea of a world without nuclear weapons seems to be one unrealized by the Cold War Era but now attainable and the goal of the Obama Era.  This approach has consisted of traditional meetings with leaders, which sparked the idea of creating bureaucratic offices in Russia to address the issue.  It is an attempt similar to that of the Cold War, utilizing the disarmament movement's methods to bring the two countries together. As relations with Russia seem unsteady, maybe traditional talks and a return to START can re-vitalize the once close relationship. 

This begs the question, which approach will win over Russia and Iran? Looking at Russian culture, maybe appealing to their traditional government structure and diplomatic measures are the best means forward.  Maybe the new public diplomacy skills are appropriate to Iran because the old methods are blocked or deemed inappropriate.   Does the US tend to utilize public diplomacy when diplomacy fails?

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