Putin hearts Obama?

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's getting a lot of ink tonight for hinting -- yet again -- that he'll make a bid for the presidency in 2012. Citing the late Franklin Delano Roosevelt's four terms as a model, Putin said there would be nothing illegal about running for a third presidential term after Dmitry Medvedev's term expires -- though he didn't say he wanted the job. (Last week Putin said he was "bored" by foreign policy, which falls under the president's formal authority.)

But that wasn't the most interesting thing Putin said Monday, speaking before a crowd of Russian and Western policy wonks in the resort town of Sochi. He used the occassion to issue a rare shoutout to Barack Obama,  calling the U.S. president a "deep, profound person" and saying the two men had "similar perspective on global problems."

"Probably this is the best prerequisite for a higher level of relationship with the United States," he added.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, that's a far cry from last year, when Putin reportedly harangued Obama during an unpleasant "working breakfast" in Moscow.


Shortest peace talks ever?

I may be skeptical about the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that began in Washington last week, but at least I'm not in the Israeli government. Avigdor Lieberman, however, is, and it looks like the foreign minister -- who lives in a West Bank settlement -- is out to sabotage the negotiations. Speaking at a gathering of his far-right Yisraeli Beiteinu party Sunday, Lieberman reportedly said that a complete, final peace deal would not be possible -- "not next year and not for the next generation."

He also said that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas "will not sign an agreement with Israel," but that he wouldn't take up arms, either. "The only practical solution," Lieberman said, "is a long-term interim agreement, on which we can debate. Our proposal is: No to unilateral concessions, no to continuing the settlement freeze, yes to serious negotiations and mutual gestures of good faith."

Haaretz also channels Israeli cabinet ministers' complaints that Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, isn't sharing details of his discussions with Abbas (many of them would love to be able to leak controversial bits to the press and blow up the talks) or his plan to deal with the impending expiration of his 10-month settlement freeze (a majority wants to start building again). Meanwhile, senior Abbas aides are already feuding in the press and spreading strategic leaks of their own.

It will take an unimaginable change of heart, not to mention skillful coalition management, by Netanyahu, to make these negotiations succeed -- and that's assuming he really wants to do it and isn't just trying to relieve American pressure. (Israeli commentator Aluf Benn predicts that Bibi's about to pull a "Nixon to China" moment, but I'm not persuaded by clichés.)

Already, it looks to me like both sides expect the talks to fail and are maneuvering to hang that failure on the other guy. Abbas has said repeatedly and unequivocally that he'll walk out if building resumes, while the Israeli government remains committed -- at least publicly -- to letting the freeze expire. According to the Jerusalem Post, 57 projects are ready to drop on Sept. 27, the day after the moratorium ends (indeed, some projects have already begun).

Carlos Stenger calls forth a parade of horribles to expect if and when the talks fall apart: an uptick in terrorist attacks, the possible dissolution of the Palestinian Authority, a return to full Israeli control of the West Bank, growing diplomatic isolation for Israel. So what's Plan B?