Obama works to secure support on the Iranian Issue

28 11 2009


The International Atomic Energy Agency issued a rebuke yesterday of Iran’s nuclear energy program.

Iran insists that its intent is only to use the technology for power production purposes, but many nations suspect otherwise.

The statement condemning Tehran’s secret nuclear energy project in Qom was passed by a vote of 27 to 3, with 5 abstentions.

In a sign of the Obama Administration making progress on the issue, both Russia and China were among the ‘yes’ votes. As permanent member of the Unite Nations Security Council, their cooperation is key to any credibility behind the threat of sanctions on Iran.

The Obama Administration has made Iran’s nuclear energy program one of its top priorities. Among the key players in the situation are Russia, China and Israel.

Iran is already under heavy sanctions, but that has had little effect on the grip that the regime has on the country.

Sanctions typically lead to crises that are big enough to have a negative effect on the people,  yet small enough as to be manageable by the government. As a result, the people and the government are usually unified in the face of the sanctioning nation, which is usually much more powerful than the one being sanctioned.

The sanctions, if they cause civil unrest like they are meant to do, enable the government to curtail democracy and civil liberties, which only strengthen their position in their country.

This has certainly been the case with Iran. If anything, the country has moved from an Islamic theocracy headed by the Ayatollah to a military dictatorship headed by the Revolutionary Guard.

Many think that the only sanction that would  have any major effect on Iran would be stopping its gasoline imports. While Iran sits on a sea of oil, its refining capabilities are extremely limited, which forces it to import a large portion of the gasoline that they use (which is Iran’s argument for wanting a nuclear energy plant in the first place).

If Iran was unable to import the supplementary gasoline, some analysts predict that this could  lead to massive civil unrest and ultimately regime change in favor of a government more sympathetic to the needs off the West.

This is where Russia and China come in. As mentioned, they both sit on the Security Council, which is the only UN body that can impose sanctions. The United States needs their votes.

On top of that, Iran imports most of its refined gasoline from Russia. So Russian cooperation is doubly imperative.

And while President Obama is trying to garner the support of Russia and China, he has Israel ratcheting up tensions with Iran by threatening to attack with or without the help of the US if this issue doesn’t get resolved.

For Israel the threat is likely a bluff, in that they probably wouldn’t attack without the go-ahead from the United States, and they would greatly desire US military assistance. But the aggressive rhetoric is there and that is enough to get Obama to move on the issue.

To secure Russia’s help Obama first had to thaw the frosty relations that had developed between the two nations during the Bush II Administration, and then present an offer to Russia in an unrelated area to entice cooperation.

This is why we saw Obama agree to halt US plans for a missile defense shield to be built in Poland and the Czech Republic back in September. The issue was huge for Russia, and would have greatly strained relations between Washington and Moscow for the foreseeable future.

In this case, the United States didn’t give up that much strategically, as many military analysts doubted the  missile defense shield’s effectiveness, and similar systems already installed on US naval vessels are far more accurate and are capable of deploying anywhere in the world.

Obama gave up the shields as a show of good will to gain Russian cooperation on the Iranian issue. So the obvious question is whether there is anything similar that he can offer the Chinese to bring them wholeheartedly on board like the Russians.

There is nothing obvious that stands out. China maintains a policy of non-judgment of other nations because the ancient country of over a billion people hates being judged itself. China doesn’t want people to criticize its human rights abuses,  its civil liberties, the treatment of minorities, or lack of democracy…and it doesn’t bring up those issues when it’s doing business in countries like Sudan or Burma.

China buys oil from Iran, oil that it needs to grease the gears of it massive economy. If the machine breaks down, and the people grow angry at the government, the communist regime in Beijing might be sent out. Not only is this unacceptable, everything must be done to prevent the scenario. So if it can do business with a nation, China believes that it is not up to them to pass judgment on that nation.

So President Obama really has his work cut out for himself on the issue. Russian and China’s ‘yes’ vote on the IAEA statement is a sign of progress, but that is a far cry from a ‘yes’ vote on UN Security Council sanctions.

Perhaps the biggest reason for China to come aboard is the fact that a US/Iran war would have a drastic and dire impact on the People’s Republic. Primarily, a war like this would severely disrupt the fragile world economy and cause a global calamity that could lead to chaos in countries with a tenuous grip on its population, like China. Secondarily, China has over a trillion US dollars in its foreign reserves, so it is heavily invested in the secure and prosperous future of the United States.

So maybe the Chinese have recognized that it is in their best interest for them to  care about this one issue. Either way, Obama has a long road ahead of him, but acquiring the support of Russia and China could go a long way to prevent the next war that nobody wants.





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