As the world burns, leaders await post-election decisions by the U.S.

ADD MAHMOUD Ahmadinejad to the list of world leaders impatiently waiting for the U.S. election to be over. The Iranian president suggested to The Post’s David Ignatius in an interview Sunday that “key issues” in the negotiations between Iran and an international coalition over its nuclear program “must be talked about again once we come out of the other end of the political election atmosphere in the United States.” The implication was that it won’t be possible to know the bottom-line U.S. terms for a deal — and that Iran would not reveal its own — until President Obama has either won reelection or been defeated by Mitt Romney.

Tehran’s frontman joined a queue that already included Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — among others. Mr. Erdogan bluntly told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour this month that the United States had failed to meet international “expectations” and was “lacking of initiative” on the crisis in Syria, probably because of the elections. When they are over, Turkey, which has proposed that a no-fly zone be created to protect Syrian civilians and rebels, will be looking for a change in U.S. policy.

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Mr. Abbas has timed his appeal to the U.N. General Assembly for recognition of Palestinian statehood so that it will move forward only after the Nov. 6 U.S. vote; he may be hoping that Mr. Obama’s opposition to the resolution will soften post-election. For his part, Mr. Netanyahu, having so far failed to persuade Mr. Obama to adopt a more explicit “red line” on military action against Iran, will likely try again with the election’s winner, while renewing the threat of unilateral action by Israel.

Thanks to an open mike at a summit this year, the world knows of a pledge made by Mr. Obama to Mr. Putin, via then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev: that “after my election, I [will] have more flexibility” to make concessions on NATO plans for missile defense in Europe. That’s a prime preoccupation of Mr. Putin, and it’s the likely key to a new agreement reducing U.S. and Russian nuclear arms.

In short, it’s not just the “fiscal cliff” of automatic spending cuts and tax increases that Mr. Obama or Mr. Romney will face in the immediate aftermath of the election but also a string of critical foreign policy choices. Notably, Mr. Romney has made it fairly clear how he would respond to several of these challenges: He has said he opposes a missile defense deal with Russia, favors arming the Syrian rebels and believes Palestinian statehood is unrealistic in the near term.

Mr. Obama is more opaque. He has offered no hint of what his “flexibility” on missile defense might mean, nor whether the current, relatively tough U.S. offer to Iran, which involves trading enriched uranium for modest economic concessions, could get better. Though he appears unlikely to change his position on a U.N. resolution on Palestinian statehood and his objection to a no-fly zone in Syria, might he have other initiatives in mind to answer Mr. Abbas and Mr. Erdogan? As with so much in this election, voters appear unlikely to learn the answers to these crucial questions before they must choose.

 
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