For Obama: How to Manage Russia, Iran?

French foreign minister sees new opportunities.

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French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on Wednesday suggested new diplomatic opportunities will come as President-elect Obama moves into the White House.

In a meeting with reporters, Kouchner indirectly called for trying to understand Moscow's mentality regarding western actions, including NATO expansion, in areas under Soviet domination just 20 years ago. "Russia believes that we are besieging them," he said, also noting Russian public opinion.

He described Russia as a key partner in contending with international disputes, including Iran's nuclear programs. "We need to keep on talking with them [the Russians] . . . if we want to get rid of this problem," he said of the Iranian nuclear drive.

Kouchner reviewed disagreements with Russia over its summer invasion of Georgia and other issues that would be covered in discussions between European Union and Russian leaders later this week. "We are very frankly talking to them, but we are talking," he said.

Kouchner offered an upbeat view of an incoming Obama presidency's approach to the Iran issue, dwelling on the need to engage Iran in direct talks, which has been an Obama policy position. "The Iranians—they want to talk with the American people," he said. He praised the decision of the Bush administration to send diplomats for a face-to-face meeting with Iranian officials this summer in Geneva. "It was important progress," he said.

However, Kouchner also alluded to the difficulties in dealing with Iran. "To talk with the Iranian people is very difficult. We tried and tried and tried," he said. He also cited the Israeli factor in efforts to prevent an Iranian nuclear breakout. "The Israelis are absolutely determined not to leave them with a bomb," he said.

On Afghanistan, he said, "There is no military solution in Afghanistan." He called for continued "Afghanization" of the long-term military effort, and he appeared to welcome the future policy imprint of an Obama administration. "I hope that President Obama will change the perspective," he said.

Kouchner, 69, is a physician and cofounder of Doctors Without Borders. He was originally from the Socialist Party in France but now sits in the cabinet of the center-right government in Paris.

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