At his first news conference in January 1961, President Kennedy announced the release of two American airmen whose reconnaissance plane had been shot down over the Soviet Union the previous July. This was taken as a gesture to the new president from Nikita Khrushchev, who had been on bad terms with President Eisenhower since a U2 spy plane was shot down, resulting in the collapse of the Paris summit.
I recall this because something of the sort — a fresh start with a new president — may be happening again. The Bush administration is in terrible trouble trying to negotiate an agreement with the Iraqi government covering the stationing of American troops. A tentative agreement, months in the making, is hung up in the Iraqi Cabinet and, it is unlikely that there will be any agreement by the time the current U.N. mandate expires Dec. 31.
There has been talk of extending the U.N. mandate for another year. But there has recently been bad blood between the Bush administration and the Kremlin over issues like the Russian invasion of Georgia. And it looked as though Russia would use its veto in the Security Council to block an extension, leaving the American forces with no legal underpinning. Stuck between Iraq and a hard place, you might say.
To most everyone's surprise, Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, has announced that Russia will support an Iraqi request that the U.N. mandate be extended. He said Russia was convinced that a complete pullout of international forces would be inadvisable. That will take some of the pressure off, as Prime Minster Nouri al-Maliki tries to negotiate an agreement in the face of widespread Iraqi opposition. Iraq's political leaders say that no deal is likely before the American election Nov. 4.
Iraqi leaders, having written off the Bush administration, are presumably counting on the election of Sen. Barack Obama, who has shown willingness to accept a timetable for withdrawal of American troops.
Get it? Foreign leaders placing their bets on the American election race all over again.