i>Thesis: Iran is a friend, a paying customer for our arms industry, a buyer of our nuclear technology and nuclear equipment, and a counterweight to U.S. hegemony. Antithesis: Iran is a danger, a supporter of the “Islamic extremism” that threatens stability along our southern flank and drives the insurgency in Chechnya. Synthesis: unknown.

Officially, it was all thesis during the four-day visit of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami that ended March 16. Khatami addressed the Duma, prayed at a mosque in Moscow, saw a new mosque under construction in Tatarstan and watched a St. Petersburg factory turn out nuclear equipment for delivery to the Iranian reactor at Bushehr. He and Putin signed agreements on nuclear and military sales, confirming Russia’s repudiation last fall of an agreement with the United States that severely restricted such transactions.

Unofficially, a few Russian commentators took the antithetical view. Pavel Felgenhauer, a gadfly analyst of security issues, argued that military links to Iran risk a rupture with the United States that could prove dangerous and expensive. Other observers worried that Russian weapons sold to Iran could one day be used against Russian soldiers, perhaps in Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan (where Russian troops defend the government against Islamic insurgents), or in southern Russia itself.

United States opposition to Russian dealings with Iran has so far been rhetorical, but the rhetoric is heating up. In an interview with the London Sunday Telegraph, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz suggested using economic leverage to stop Russian arms proliferation. “My view,” he reportedly said, “is that they have to be confronted with a choice…. You can’t expect to do billions of dollars worth of business and aid and all that with the United States and its allies, and then turn around and do smaller quantities of obnoxious stuff that threatens our people and our pilots and our sailors.”