Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Russia this week and appears to be coming back empty-handed.
Clinton's most urgent action item was obtaining support for international sanctions on Iran, as a means to thwart Tehran's nuclear ambitions. President Dmitri Medvedev said last month that, "sometimes sanctions are inevitable," which was seen by some observers as support for a tougher stance on Iran. But, during Mrs. Clinton's trip, she found no further support of this position from either Prime Minister Vladimir Putin or Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. In fact, Lavrov now says that sanctions during the current standoff would be "counterproductive."
Clinton undoubtedly received renewed pledges of support from the Russians for secure supply lines through the Kremlim's sphere of influence to U.S. troops in Afghanistan – a critical need as the U.S. military prepares for another cold winter there. But this was already in the bag.
The State Department will likely try to squeeze some positive spin out of the reported progress on strategic arms reductions. However, President Barack Obama and Medvedev agreed back in July to a preliminary deal to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). With START set to expire in December, and with an agreement in both countries' interests, progress should not be seen as the fruits of Mrs. Clinton's deft diplomacy.
That Mrs. Clinton is returning stateside without exacting any significant concessions from the Russians – particularly on Iran sanctions – should come as no surprise. When Obama announced in September that he would unilaterally scrap plans for a long-planned missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, he coughed up Washington's only bargaining chip.
In short, the Kremlin got what it wanted. There's nothing left to negotiate.