IN OTHER WORDS: Play it right

During the fall campaign, Joe Biden ruminated aloud about a foreign policy challenge that President Obama would have to confront early on. That challenge has come even sooner than Biden anticipated. To test Barack Obama’s intentions Russia recently announced its plans to go forward with the on-again off-again sale of an advanced air defence system to Iran.

Russia has no interest in helping Iran obtain nuclear weapons, but President Dmitry Medvedev

and his mentor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, may want to lay down a marker even before Obama takes up his responsibilities in the Oval Office. A good augury for Obama’s early Kremlin challenge is that both Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Henry Kissinger visited Moscow this month for high-level discussions.

These two go-betweens may bring Obama a message about the Kremlin’s terms for repairing a relationship that deteriorated under Bush. Because the missile defence system is flawed and because key European allies already oppose NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, Obama will have a chance to trade low-value cards inherited from Bush for crucial Russian cooperation on proliferation, terrorism, and energy security. Obama has the cards. Now he has to play them right.