U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's months-long
diplomatic effort to get five other powers to agree to a tough United Nations
Security Council resolution on sanctions against Iran now seems certain to fail,
because of Russian and Chinese resistance.
The beneficiaries of that failure in Washington will be Vice President Dick
Cheney and other hardliners, who have been anticipating that such a development
would help them persuade President George W. Bush to begin the political-diplomatic
planning for an air attack on Iran.
For more than seven months, Rice has based her Iran strategy on the premise
that a coalition of the five permanent Security Council members (the United
States, Britain, France, Russia, and China) plus Germany can reach agreement
to impose significant costs on Iran for its refusal to bow to the demand to
end uranium enrichment. As recently as September, both Rice and Undersecretary
of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, who coordinates Iran policy,
publicly expressed confidence that the coalition would "stay together."
But the Rice coalition strategy has been swimming against a powerful geopolitical
tide. Russia and China have no interest in a weakened Iran, and have been signaling
for months that they are not on board with Rice's strategy. In May, Rice tried
to trade off the Bush administration's concession of agreeing to join direct
negotiations with Iran for a commitment by the other five powers in the coalition
to pass sanctions enforceable under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. But Russia
and China blocked that plan, and the proposal to Iran from the P5 plus 1 group
contained no reference to sanctions.
Now the Russians, with apparent Chinese support, are insisting that any resolution
on Iran's nuclear program fall well short of "sanctions" in the sense
of punishment of Iran.
Last month, the Europeans circulated a draft that would have required that
countries prevent the sale and supply of a long list of equipment, technology,
and financing to all of Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, including
dual-use items and related technologies. It would have required that states
"prevent the supply, sale, or transfer" of such technologies, ban
travel by Iranian officials connected with either program, and freeze their
But it did not characterize Iran's nuclear program as a threat to international
peace and security, as Rice wanted. Furthermore, it would have allowed Moscow
to continue its assistance to Iran for the construction of Iran's Bushehr nuclear
As reported by the Washington Post Oct. 25, Rice proposed amendments
to the draft that would have closed both those loopholes. When the Europeans
rejected those amendments, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton threatened to withdraw
U.S. support from the resolution. But the British, French, and Germans held
The Russians, however, were insisting on a much narrower set of restrictions
than those provided in the European draft. In early November, the six nations
were deadlocked on the scope of the resolution. Now the EU has circulated a
draft that would only prohibit export of the most dangerous items that could
be used to make a nuclear weapon or a ballistic missile, according to a report
by Bloomberg's Bill Varner on Thursday.
But the EU draft retains the same travel ban and asset freeze to which to Russia
had objected previously. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made it clear
Friday that Moscow would support "sanctions aimed at preventing nuclear
materials and sensitive technologies from getting into Iran" but objects
to sanctions aimed at individuals, such as travel bans and the freezing of assets
abroad. "Russia is against punishing Iran," he declared.
The Russian position on Iran sanctions appears to ensure that the resolution
will not even be as strong as the commitment already undertaken by the 45-member
Nuclear Suppliers Group, which includes every country known to possess the technologies
needed to produce nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles.
The imminent collapse of Rice's coalition on Iran sanctions reflects the fundamental
conflict of interest between Russia and the Bush administration not only on
Iran's nuclear program but on broader geopolitical issues.
Dr. Celeste A. Wallander of Georgetown University, who conducted interviews
with 20 current and former Russian defense officials and analysts on Russian
views on proliferation with Robert Einhorn of the Center for Strategic and International
Studies (CSIS), wrote in a recent policy paper that Russia has no intention
of helping create new nuclear states but will not "risk political relationships
with important regional powers" to support U.S. nonproliferation efforts.
Russian officials view the Iranian nuclear issue primarily in geopolitical
terms, Wallander writes, and they doubt that the United States really cares
about proliferation per se. They believe Washington should fix the "demand
side" of the proliferation problem the Iranian insecurity and fear of
U.S. policy instead of focusing primarily on the "supply side"
of the problem, according to Wallander.
Chinese interests on the Iran issue parallel those of the Russians. Beijing
has been seeking to strengthen its strategic partnership with Russia, particularly
since the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq and overt strategy of using
alliances with Japan, India, and South Korea as leverage on Beijing. Both China
and Russia appear to view the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as a vehicle
for countering U.S. power across Asia. In 2005, Moscow and Beijing signaled
their joint interest in cooperation with Iran against U.S. pressures by inviting
Iran to become a member of the SCO.
Rice appeared to concede Friday that the United States will not get agreement
on the kind of sanctions on Iranian officials for which she has been pushing.
She said she was for "maintaining unity, but I am also in favor of action.
We will just have to look at what the options are."
Rice was given the Iran portfolio when she became secretary of state in January
2005, and has apparently sought to move administration policy away from the
option of using military force. She even indicated privately to a few figures
outside the administration earlier this year that she hoped her move to offer
talks with Iran in the context of EU-Iran talks on the nuclear issue would result
in broader U.S.-Iran negotiations.
But Rice's diplomatic track on Iran was narrowly constrained from the beginning
by a broader Bush administration policy of refusing any diplomatic compromise
with Iran. Cheney and then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld apparently agreed
to let Rice go down that track in early 2005 because they knew that any diplomatic
effort through the Security Council to get sanctions against Iran would end
in failure and that such a failure was a necessary prelude to any use of force.
According to an article by the neoconservative Lawrence F. Kaplan in The
New Republic Oct. 2, aides to Cheney have been convinced from the beginning
that Rice's Iran strategy would not be an obstacle to their own plans because
they knew that it would fail.
The aides to Cheney insisted that the administration is not yet prepared politically
for a shift to the military track, according to Kaplan. But once Rice's diplomatic
effort becomes a highly visible failure, Cheney and his allies in the administration
are poised to begin the process of ratcheting up pressure on Bush to begin the
political planning for an eventual military attack on Iran.
(Inter Press Service)