Sources close to the U.S. and Russian governments confirmed to The Cable Monday that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will visit Washington and meet with President Obama on June 24.
The visit is timed exactly after Obama's stated deadline for finishing up U.N. Security Council action to bring new sanctions against Iran. The State Department has said repeatedly that Obama wants to see the sanctions vote before the end of spring -- June 21 -- and the Medvedev visit would be an opportunity to show unity on that front, or if the process lags, to give it one final push across the finish line.
Putting Iran sanctions in the rear-view mirror will also allow the administration to concentrate on the main accomplishment of Obama's "reset" of U.S. relations with Russia: ratification of the new START nuclear reductions treaty. Russia's desire for a civilian nuclear agreement with the United States, which is the secondary "reset" agenda item right now, is also sure to be discussed.
That agreement, which was first submitted by the Bush administration but pulled after the Russian-Georgian war of 2008, was sent back to Congress last month. If Congress doesn't formally object by August, it will go into effect.
A bipartisan effort to block the Russian civilian nuclear agreement is heating up now, led by Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey and Nebraska Republican Jeff Fortenberry, who introduced the House version of the resolution opposing the deal.
Recent reports about the risks of terrorists acquiring Russian nuclear technology have heightened concerns among lawmakers. Hill sources say that a Senate companion measure could surface with bipartisan sponsorship this week.
"Russia continues to train Iranian nuclear physicists, supply to Iran sensitive nuclear technology, and give secret instruction on Russian soil to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard on the use of the advanced S-300 interceptor-missile systems," said Markey about the deal.
"As long as I've been in this job, there's been no concern about Russian entities providing nuclear assistance to Iran," the NSC's non-proliferation Czar Gary Samore said earlier this month when talking about the 123 agreement, the shorthand used for civilian nuclear deals because they are based on section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954.
State Department officials have said that Moscow's ability to get the deal is tied directly to how helpful the Russians are in securing new sanctions against Iran, so the visit is perfectly timed for the administration to make an argument on that front.
"The White House has publicly stated that the Russian government's cooperation on the Iranian nuclear issue will be a significant consideration in making this determination and this continues to be the case," acting Assistant Secretary of State Vann Van Diepen testified last month.
Further details of the Medvedev visit are still being worked out. We've heard but haven't confirmed yet that a State Dinner is in the offing.