Thursday, July 13, 2006

Russia and China Cooperate on Iran

One of the curious things I've been noticing lately is the number of headlines that say Russia and China are jointly doing something. For example, last week, China and Russia announced a joint military exercise.

Helene Cooper and Elaine Sciolino of The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Russia and China have indicated that they may agree to stronger measures against Iran:
Russia and China, crossing a major diplomatic threshold in the international effort to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, agreed to join the United States and Europe today in seeking a United Nations Security Council resolution ordering Iran to freeze its nuclear activities or face sanctions.

The movement toward a resolution reflects increased anger over Iran’s refusal to respond to an international offer of economic and energy incentives in exchange for halting its enrichment of uranium, a step involved in building nuclear weapons.

I've had the impression that China and Russia wanted to go slow on Iran though they were in favor of the incentives package that the US has offered the Iranian leaders in exchange for halting uranium enrichment. On the other hand, a more united front with stronger language may bring Iran to the bargaining table which would be good for all parties concerned. One possible concern that Russia and China may have is that Iran may possibly be hiding behind the reluctance of the two nations to impose sanctions. But I'm struck by the joint timing. It wasn't Russia agrees to stronger measures and then, a few days later, China follows suit.

Both Russia and China want better relations with the US but President Bush has not always made it easy. In fact, I can see a problem with Condi Rice getting too much credit for the latest development. Our Secretary of State has a habit of sniping with the Russians and they're not shy about dishing it back.

It's an interesting game as long as everyone remembers there's work to be done. We are in an election season and everyone in the world knows it. If Bush sticks to an honest foreign policy, he might actually accomplish something with Iran. If he allows the elections to be a factor, I can see things unraveling rather fast with dangerous complications.

Neither China or Russia want to see war in Iran. For Russia, it's biggest fear may be the presence of the US military along its underbelly. But Russia also doesn't want to see its former republics becoming destabilized by a war in Iran that spreads to other areas. As long as Asia remains peaceful, Russia has an opportunity to make an enormous amount of money with its oil and gas production and thousands of miles of pipelines with more to come. China fears losing its source of energy for a growing economy; and they can crunch the numbers for a war against Iran better than the US can and the results could easily undermine its enormous economic boom. News reports like to talk about the trade that both nations have with Iran but the implications are far larger than simply a few billion dollars of trade.

If Russia and China are agreeing to stronger language, something has changed. It could be North Korea or Israel or both, or simply a desire on Russia's part for a prestigious meeting of the G-8 this coming weekend or even some fourth issue. We may know more in the coming days.


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