Friday, November 30, 2007

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What are Russia and China's end game on Iran?

Last year I questioned what Bush administration hawks saw as the end game in U.S. dealings with Iran.

After reading Elaine Sciolino's excellent review of the current state of play regarding Iran in today's New York Times, I'm going to have to put the same question to Russia and China:

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is known for overheated, boastful pronouncements. So it was hardly a surprise earlier this month when he declared that despite demands from the United States and other countries that Iran stop enriching uranium, Tehran was pressing ahead and negotiations were out of the question.

“From our point of view,” he said, “this subject is closed.”

But in this case, Iran’s intransigence is not only real; it also appears to be defeating attempts by the rest of the world to curtail Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, at least for the moment....

[N]othing seems to be bending the will of Iran, which is flush with oil revenues. The incentive strategy, led by Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy adviser, has failed to entice Iran to stop enrichment in exchange for economic, political and technological rewards. So has the punishment approach, as Russia and China hold firm to the view that further pressure will only intensify the standoff.

In May, desperate to engage Iran, the six nations offered a brief freeze in further sanctions if Iran freezes its enrichment program at the current level, effectively dropping their demand that Iran stop enrichment altogether. But that “double freeze” proposal barely got Tehran’s attention.

“The chosen strategy of pressure and engagement is not working,” said one senior European official involved in the diplomacy. “As a result, you have a lot of people desperately banging on the door of the Iranians. All of them are coming back empty-handed.”....

Russia has recently tried but failed to sway Iran to compromise. During a recent visit to Tehran, President Vladimir V. Putin was granted a rare audience with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Mr. Putin made no threats, but focused on the benefits that would flow to Iran, including the delivery of sophisticated nuclear technology, if it made some gesture on enrichment, according to officials familiar with the visit.

Iranian officials described the meeting as very friendly, but when Mr. Putin sent his foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, to Tehran, Mr. Lavrov received a frosty reception, and returned home frustrated, Russian, Iranian and European officials said.

Still, Russia prefers to make the next priority not more sanctions but winning Iran’s cooperation on allowing wider inspections of its nuclear sites by the United Nations agency, Russian and Western European officials said.

China, whose trade with Iran is soaring, has taken what might be characterized as a passive-aggressive diplomatic approach.

It did not send a representative to a key meeting of the six powers in Brussels on Monday, causing the meeting to be canceled. The Chinese delegation also refused to attend the previous scheduled meeting of the group, to protest both a meeting Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, held with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader, and the decision by the United States Congress to honor him. The Chinese are expected at Saturday’s meeting.

The only negotiation with Iran that seems to be progressing is the limited one aimed at resolving the United Nations agency’s questions about Tehran’s past nuclear activity. Under a formal agreement last summer with the agency, Iran has begun to turn over documents and make various officials and former officials available for interviews.

As long as Iran is making progress on this front, the United States and its European allies are likely to have a difficult time persuading Russia and China to agree to further sanctions.

As near as I can figure, China and Russia don't want to think about the end game because the status quo benefits them enormously.

The status quo is a situation in which:

a) The US and EU are committed to work through the United Nations;

b) China and Russia hold leverage over any sanctions process; and

c) The uncertainty over Iran's possible nuclear program acts as a useful check against any further expansion of American or Israeli influence in the Middle East.

This is all well and good, and rational in the short run. The thing is, I'm reasonably sure that neither Russia nor China really wants Iran to develop a nuclear fuel cycle that is independent of any IAEA or UNSC strictures -- which is what the status quo will lead to in a few years. Clearly, solving the problem now will be less costly than solving the problem later. And as much as China and Russia might disdain sanctions, I've seen zero evidence that inducements are having any effect either.

Question to Russia and China-watchers -- what do they believe the end game is on Iran?

UPDATE: This Reuters story highlights another problem -- as long as Iran believes that the great powers are not coordinated, they have no incentive to make any concessions:

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said late on Thursday that nothing would deflect the Islamic Republic from its pursuit of nuclear technology and that Washington had "lost" in its attempts to stop them.

"The Iranian nation will never return from the path that they have chosen and they are determined and decisive to continue this path (to obtain nuclear technology)," Mottaki was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.

The West says Iran's nuclear programme is aimed at building atom bombs. Iran, a major oil exporter, says efforts to enrich uranium are intended only to produce electricity.

Diplomats and analysts say Iran will see little reason to relent in its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment given that six big powers remain at odds over how soon to resort to more United Nations penalties and how harsh they should be.

posted by Dan on 11.30.07 at 09:08 AM


I hope I won't be thought to be restating the obvious when I point out that neither Russia or China can have an "end game on Iran" or vice versa.

Fifteen months from now all three of these countries will still be around, under their current governments. While it is unlikely that Iran will have been able to produce a nuclear weapon, let alone a usable nuclear arsenal by that time, neither Russia or China have indicated they see a nuclear Iran as anything more than undesirable. Whether their judgment is correct is another matter, but we need to acknowledge the reality that their view of the matter and ours differ.

The Bush administration, of course, is nearing its end. Most of its senior officials will not ever have responsibility either for Iran or for other aspects of foreign policy after January of 2009. Only in this sense does talk of an "end game" relate to actual events, but of course the United States is not going anywhere either. Some foundations must be laid on which to build policy toward Iran during the next administration, and the one after that. The current President's self-absorption, so typical of his generation, may well lead him to believe that disaster must follow if the Iran nuclear problem is not "solved" while he is still in office. One may hope that at least some of the people working for him understand that every such problem is related to many others, and demands not solution but management over periods of time longer than that of any one administration.

posted by: Zathras on 11.30.07 at 09:08 AM [permalink]

I agree largely with Zathras (for once), but i would take it a bit further...

The first and obvious point is that Iran is a sovereign nation and has done nothing wrong. Drezner, the fascist and criminal American government and it's toadies in Europe are making absolutely unsubstantiated claims that there is "uncertainty" over Iran's nuclear program. This is not technical uncertainty, obviously, because the IAEA has shown Iran to be totally within its rights in terms of it's nuclear work. But it is political uncertainty. The fascists, toadies and Drezner simply don't like or trust Iran and thus have built a story around their fears, rather than around reality. Exactly the same as Iraq. The major advantage Iran has is that it has not previously been destroyed by war and sanctions, so it can actually stand up for itself.

Countries like Russia and China probably don't much care about Iran either way. If it wasn't for the USA and Europe making all this huff and fuss about them, Iran and Russia and China (respectively) would have perfectly compatible relations. They have no problems politically or economically with Iran (independent of the fascists and toadies making a problem). And unlike Drezner's suggestion, I don't think they have any more fear of a nuclear powered Iran (or the fantasy of a nuclear armed Iran) than they do of a nuclear powered Indonesia.

So, like Zathras said, the simple fact is that Russia and China don't have an "end game" with Iran. The only thing that makes Iran a problem for them is the pressure from the fascists and the toadies. I suspect, actually, that they are more likely to have an "end game" with the USA, rather than Iran. Just look at the way that Russia and China have acted toward American aggression lately...
-Russia pulls out of the conventional forces agreement
-Putin slams the USA for interference on a daily basis.
-China blocks a air craft carrier from entering its port
-China snubs meetings with the USA and Europe on Iran...

If it isn't obvious who they consider to be the problem, then you are just too pro-American to have any good sense. Plus, World-Führer Bush is gone in a year. Why should Russia and China care about Iran? The danger, from their perspective, is the USA.

posted by: Joe M. on 11.30.07 at 09:08 AM [permalink]

Russia has a long, tense relationship of rivals with Iran going back to the Czarist era. Now is no different. When I travel to the region, it's clear that the Russians (as well as the rest of the former Soviet peoples) are suspicious of Iran. Notwithstanding Putin's recent courtship of Ahmadinejad, he's keeping the Iranian leader at arm's length.

I believe there is an 'end game,' as Daniel suggests. Putin would cherish the diplomatic bragging rights that would be accorded whoever can resolve the Iranian nuclear standoff with the West. Short of that, I think he would like to be embraced as a serious partner in the effort, even if behind the scenes. His public huffing and puffing is a smoke screen -- like Russian leaders traditionally, he craves global respect, and resents that he and Russia don't get it.

I'll leave an analysis of China to others, but simply note that it did play a big part in bringing around North Korea.

Steve LeVine, author
The Oil and the Glory (Random House)

posted by: Steve LeVine on 11.30.07 at 09:08 AM [permalink]

Steve LeVine,
Your response doesn't make much sense. Your first paragraph basically says that it's historic, and your second says it's personal. Well, while those might be factors, i hardly believe they are the driving forces. In respect to your first paragraph, regardless of whether Russia (people and gov) is distrustful of Iran, they clearly see their interests closely tied to a stable and prosperous Iran. They recognize that American threats against Iran are more dangerous to them than Iran's (perceived) nuclear weapons threat. Even General John Abizaid makes that point. So, while there might be a distrust in Russia about Iran, their distrust probably simply keeps them at a distance from Iran, it does not make them embrace an insane policy that is so obviously against their interests...

As for the personal factor, again, the simple fact is that Bush's violence and brainlessness has given Russia all the credibility they need. It is not hard for any tin pot dictator to position themselves in the advantage simply by filling in the opposition void that Bush has made so easy. Russia, is in an especially good position to do so considering it's resources and past power. i don't think Russia has to work very hard.

So, my point is that the "end game" for Russia seems to be simply to wait out Bush, rather than do some weird diplomatic move with Iran. I am sure they would love to do a diplomatic move with Iran if they could. But given the choice between embracing Bush's policy and embracing Iran's policy, I suspect they will just embrace neither side. And as long as Iran gives them some room to wiggle (by cooperating with the IAEA enough to give Russia diplomatic cover), Russia will continue to help build nuclear reactors and such... (ie. they are getting paid to back Iran).

posted by: Joe M. on 11.30.07 at 09:08 AM [permalink]

I always wondered what The Iron Sheik took up after his feud with Hulk Hogan ended. I guess now we know. "I-ran Number 1, USA ach-ptui!" There isn't a lot of money in blog comments, so this is probably just a sideline.

Steve Levine's comment is not wrong. Russia, however, finds itself seeking to reassert its great power status in places bound to bring it into conflict with the United States and Europe: the Balkans, Georgia, the Baltic states. This gratuitous troublemaking is difficult to square with cooperation on the Iranian nuclear problem, a further complication to the pursuit of a united front on this issue.

posted by: Zathras on 11.30.07 at 09:08 AM [permalink]

To me China's strategic interests in the region seem not very pronounciated, they just don't seem to care that much. I do not see why a nuclear Iran would be so bad for them. North Korea was kind of an issue, but even there they didn't stop it. And as Dan points out, the status quo by and large works in favour of Beijing. So much for China.

Russia is a different story. A nuclear armed Iran can't serve Russia's interests. But I think that apart from short term gains, they might have two big advantages:

(1) One could claim that their intelligence might be better, as they are involved with Iran on several levels, e.g. sharing technology etc. I would guess they know what they are doing.

(2) Russia can ultimately lean back and let others do the work. We can be sure that the US and even more so Israel have more extreme positions on not allowing Iran to get the bomb. So ultimately Moscow can either (i) negotiate hard over their support for collective action - involving material or immaterial sidepayments by the West. Or (ii) even better wait for military action by Israel or the US to solve the issue, while taking a neutral "clean hands" etc stance, and complaining about the US on the stage of the world.

If (1) holds, they might even try to trigger the point of military action by leaking intelligence to the Israelis if they feel their game is getting too hot.

Sounds very very comfortable to me.

And even if China cares, what I wrote about Russia should hold for them too...

posted by: Roland Kappe on 11.30.07 at 09:08 AM [permalink]

Why do Americans always think that the rest of the world has the same interests as the most insane Americans have?

What danger does Iran pose to Russia????

Just because Zionists have convinced Americans that Iran is a threat does not mean that it is actually a threat. The real threat to everyone is American wars that destabilize the Arab and Muslim world. Russia knows this very well. These wars that the USA are doing (Iraq, Afghanistan, threatening Iran) pose a much greater threat to Russia than anything the Iranians could or would do without such wars.

Russia the only possible interest Russia has in helping the USA increase pressure on Iran is specifically in terms of bilateral relations with the USA. But relations with the USA are already fairly cold, and they are not going to change economically regardless of the position Russia takes on Iran. And, again, Russia (and the rest of the world) would be severely hurt by an attack against Iran. Iran would go to war with the entire world economic system if there was an attack against them. they would stop exporting their own oil and blow up Saudi and Kuwaiti oil facilities, fire thousands of rockets at American bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, Dubai, Kuwait, Qatar... They would do their best to level Tel-Aviv... This is a far bigger threat to Russia than getting on the bad side of a retarded man (Bush, if it is not obvious).

You American hyper-nationalists can keep living in your dream land of American world domination, but you will just keep deluding yourselves. Not everyone on the planet walks lock-step with the USA, and particularly the most idiotic things the USA says and does (like a potential war with Iran).

posted by: Joe M. on 11.30.07 at 09:08 AM [permalink]

The concern over Iran getting a nuclear weapon - and thereby tossing overboard 40+ years of bipartisan US agreement to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons - is not, of course, solely that it will be a threat to the US. It will be a threat to the other nations in the region who, in turn, will wish to develop their own nuclear programs.

Only a fool believes that the Zionists (horrors!) are the only people concerned about a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

The behavior by China and Russia over the past 5 years over Iran, the Sudan and other areas has been appalling. Their unilateralism makes Bush look like Jimmy Carter. But the Left's hatred of Bush is so blinding that they don't care about those nations. Because international law and treaties are designed to limit US action.

Who cares about Russia and China? Stop the evil US first. Everything else doesn't matter.

posted by: SteveMG on 11.30.07 at 09:08 AM [permalink]

Before you can go spouting nonsense about Iran starting an "arms race", you have to first prove that Iran is even has the desire (let alone, has tried) to make a weapon. As the last IAEA report showed pretty conclusively, there is absolutely no evidence that Iran has taken any steps toward the production of nuclear weapons. This was plain as day in teh report. and as much you you want to believe John Bolton, I would much rather look at the facts as they are available, rather than invent some mystical scenario that has no basis in reality.

Second, even if we admit that there was an "arms race" why the hell should the USA care? What difference does it make? There is simply no way for neighboring countries to use nuclear weapons against each other, and especially in the case of Iran (where the USA and Israel would literally kill ever single Iranian in response). The USA didn't go crying about India or Pakistan when they exploded nuclear weapons. All they did was put extremely minor sanctions on them as a result. And the weapons changed absolutely nothing in terms of strategic relations. Same with North Korea, their weapons have done nothing to change the balance of power int eh region. Similarly, an "arm race" in the middle east would do absolutely nothing to change anything... Just ask the war criminal General John Abizaid. He says flatly that Iran with nuclear weapons would not be a problem.

Boogy man, boogy man, boogy man....

And let's be frank, China and Russia have every right to have different interests in the world than the USA. And you must be sick in the head to think that China or Russia are more criminal than the USA. The USA is responsible for killing around 1,000,000 iraqis, and countless afhgans. the USA is moving to start another war with Iran. You might not like Russian or Chinese foreign policy, but they are small-time crooks compared to the vile and vicious crimes of the USA. Even the worst case, Chechnya, is a paradise compared to what Bush has done to Iraq, With 5,000,000 (20% of their population) refugees and so many dead. So seriously, go to bed.

posted by: Joe M. on 11.30.07 at 09:08 AM [permalink]

Joe M. is out of his or her mind to write what is posted here.

Nuclear Iran has two problems:
- the nuclear proliferation it will result when Iran goes nuclear (Saudi, Egyptian and Turkey nuclear bombs?) and
- the real danger of undertaking irreversible damage to Israel, resulting in strategic victory to Iranian Islamic fanaticism (which is different than Al-Qaeda’s Sunni fanaticism).

One is tempted to think that Russia and China will not be irresponsible to the extent of not recognizing ultimate threats emerging out of above mentioned two dangers. Chinese will be fools to keep on repeating ‘harmonious society and peaceful rise of China’ if they do not see dangers of multiple nuclear states around it’s borders and Russians are eventually unlikely to get back their cherished ‘mantle’ of world super power if they become ‘too smart for their own good nation’ sitting on fence so that only USA does the dirty work.

Though the focus of this blog article is what Russia and China ultimately want in regards to nuclear ambitions of Iran, I would rather prefer to ask a naïve question keeping aside this focus – can USA afford to leave this grave threat to the cynicism of Russia and China? Forget about dangers to Russia and China, why nuclear Iran which has ‘wiped out’ Israel will not be the ultimate threat to USA itself? What basis do we have to assume that no other Iranian leader would like to follow the path laid by Ahmadinejad in destroying Israel and wielding enormous hegemony if the current Iranian president does not succeed in setting the Middle East tinder box on fire?

Ultimately uncontrolled nuclear Iran is and should be ‘unacceptable’ to USA. Europe should be a natural partner in this endeavor. Notwithstanding favorable noise made by Sarkozy along these lines, one can not count much on the European ‘muscle’ if there is any such entity. Saudis may be more useful than Europe in this matter.

All this does not mean I want to suggest that tomorrow USA declares yet another war in Middle East to wage a campaign against Iran. Granted, North Korea turn around came only when USA worked in tandem with China and other countries. But all these issues with Iran do mean USA has to have a policy to deal with Iran in isolation when multilateral strategy is coming to a dead end. There is no point in clinging to North Korean model for the sake of ‘policy insistence’. Each problem demands its own distinctive approach. With Iran it looks more and more unilateral American approach along with some nations possibly on board (France, Saudi Arabia?).

posted by: Umesh Patil on 11.30.07 at 09:08 AM [permalink]

I agree with one part of JoeM's argument, and that is his suggestion that Putin is in a waiting pattern. Given the hyperbolic diplomatic phase of both the Iranian and Western sides, there does not appear to be an early agreement. However, Putin can position himself -- and has done so, in my opinion, -- as the "essential player" in any settlement. Who else is talking to Ahmadinijad?

Steve LeVine, author
The Oil and the Glory

posted by: Steve LeVine on 11.30.07 at 09:08 AM [permalink]

You seem to be one of those "blame America first and always and for every damn thing" leftists. As usual you leftists are fooling yourself and trying to fool every one else that a nuclear armed Iran is a matter of no concern to no one. Really ? Is that why Putin goes to Iran to meet the ayatollah who is the supreme leader for all practical purposes ?

Russia would not like to have a nuclear armed country in its neighborhood especially a country like Iran which not only is rich in energy resources but also controls access to tranist routes that ship oil (Straits of Hormuz). No country that wants to be a big power would ever tolerate a nuclear armed neighbor under the control of islamic theocracy. After their experience with Chechenya, the Russians must indeed be wary of a Muslim state that has friggin nuclear weapons !!

The US and the EU are more worried about the leverage that Iran would get with nuclear weapons rather than the weapons themselves - if Iran ever did any thing stupid with Israel, they know that the US would obliterate them and no body in hell would stand against that especially when Iran launches the first nuclear strike.

So while the dangers of nuclear aggression cannot be discounted, Iran is smart enough to understand that concept of Mutually Assured Destruction. And it has also shown how to earn diplomatic breathing room by co-operating with the IAEA just enough to keep Russia,China sitting on the fence.

Joe M, i dont know if you drive to work/pick up groceries but if you do, you may have noticed the price of gas and how you hate it. Wait when the Iranians pull off one of their stunts and subject the industrialized world to black mail and you may start begging for US intervention.

Please put away your idealogical blinders when debating an issue like this. Just because the neo cons are rooting for a war against Iran does not make Iran an angel. If you watched how earlier in the year, they captured British sailors and subjected them to such public humiliation, you would know better than to think that a nuclear armed Iran would not matter at all.

If you know about the Iranian suppression of their people's thirst for a freer and more open society with no harsh islamic laws, you would know better than to say that a nuclear armed iran is of no concern to no one other than the US and EU.

May be you should call up Haleh Esfandari, an Iranian American who heads the Woodrow Wilson Center's Middle Eastern program and ask her why she was charged with espionage by the Iranian Govt when she was visiting her 93 year old mother.

People like you make me shake my head. How much will your hatred for "Zionists" and "US imperialist toadies" blind you to the realities and dangers of a nuclear armed islamic theocracy?? No wonder leftists like Chris Hitchens have woken up to this and gone so far as to switch sides with the neo cons !! Who would have thunk that ?

The Chinese are trying to be too cute with Iran. Once Russia gets into the US, EU camp, China would have to follow as it would be isolated. Given Iranian intransigence on this issue, its a matter of time before Russia comes to its senses and realizes that it alone cannot prevent the Iranians from getting nuclear weapons and it needs to go along with the US and the EU.

posted by: NS on 11.30.07 at 09:08 AM [permalink]

I got to respond to this

" And you must be sick in the head to think that China or Russia are more criminal than the USA. The USA is responsible for killing around 1,000,000 iraqis, and countless afhgans."

Joe M. , who is feeding you such "spot on news" ?? Michael Moore or Jimmy Carter or is Noam Chomsky ?

You got to be sick in the head that China and Russia can be mentioned in the same breath as the US when comparing them for their "crimes".
Who is killing people in Iraq with the car bombs , suicide attacks and IEDs ?? American troops??

Obviously you have nt heard of the terror regimes of either Lenin,Stalin or Mao.
Neither have you heard of how the Iraqis themsleves have turned their back on Al Qaeda and are now co-operating with the US.

What is it with these leftists in a democracy ? Always ready to blame their country first and for every little thing while being steadfastly blind to the crimes of their idealogical brethren.

I have noticed this in the US and India now to ask this as a generic question.

posted by: NS on 11.30.07 at 09:08 AM [permalink]

First off, just to be clear, I was not making a historical comparison between Russia, China and the USA, but a contemporary one. Currently, there is no doubt that the USA is more violent than China and/pr Russia. I don't think there is much to debate. But too, historically, the USA might have a better domestic record than the other two, but internationally, it is again more violent and destructive. At least after WWII. I don't want to simply count dead bodies, but the just as an example, Russia's violence in Afghanistan is ruffly similar the way the USA is treating the country today. But Russia and China don't have the blood of the 6 million dead Vietnamese and Koreans on their hands...(at least directly). and that's not the last of it.

But Anyway, the more substantive point is the question about what problem a nuclear Iran actually would pose. You admit that Iran would not use nuclear weapons even if it had them (and again, there is absolutely no evidence that they are trying to build such weapons). Just read the IAEA report (it's only 9 pages long):

But more, you want to say that i am blinded by ideology, but that's not true. My biggest problem is that a war with Iran would be absolutely more devastating than Iran getting nuclear weapons (which, again, there is no evidence of). If it was just ideology, why is John Abizaid saying that the USA could live with a nuclear Iran? He is not a leftie in the least. Why? answer that?

And you make these empty statements about what makes Iran dangerous, but you have no clue. I have lived much of my life in the Arab and Muslim world and know very well what is going on in Iran. You tell me to "call up Haleh Esfandari", as if that means anything. I am a secular (though Christian Palestinain/Iraqi) and I am just as annoyed by the Islamists as anyone. I hate when they get in my face just as much as anyone else. Just as much as the Iranians who you say "thirst for a freer and more open society with no harsh islamic laws." But the damn truth is that they do not all feel that way. I am telling you this with good experience, the Islamists are the MAJORITY in most of the middle east. The secular forces are weak and meaningless. We might get press in the USA and Europe, but we are out numbered by 100 to 1. That is not to say that our fears and concerns are not legitimate, but just to say that I believe the Islamists have a right to rule as the majority. They have earned it. they are legitimately popular. It is just a fact. I don't like that fact personally, but it is true. and trust me, it bothers me and my family more than it does you. We experience it often, you read it in the New York Times...

Anyway, sorry for that divergence, but the point was that it is so easy to sit there and claim that the Islamists are a danger and are so insane and blah blah blah... but the situation is much much more complicated. and let me tell you further, by fat the biggest advantage the Islamists have is the fact that the USA is such a belligerent threat to the region. they are our only opposition parties to fight our American puppet dictators. and with every additional threat the USA makes, with every additional country the USA attacks, with every additional dollar they give the Saudi, Jordainian, Egyptian, Iraqi, Gulfie, Lebanese, Algerian, Moroccan, or other government in the region, you are making the Islamists stronger. Maybe the region would change if we had some damn room to breath, but that is going to take a long time. and that is the reality of it. And the only way to hurt the Islamists is to let them rule and let them discredit themselves fairly. Not attack them like the USA did Hamas. that does more to discredit american puppets like Abbas than to discredit Hamas.

But anyway, again, those empty slogans about people wanting freedom or what-have-you, have exactly no relevance in deciding whether Iran would be more dangerous with an nuclear weapons that they are not trying to build. It gives them no leverage at all. none. zero. And who cares whether Saudi and Egypt get weapons too? Who cares? they will not use them. maybe there is a slightly greater chance of a mistake with these poor countries having such destructive weapons, but i doubt the threat of a mistake from 1 Egyptian weapons is any greater than the threat of a mistake (think about the nuclear armed B2 that crossed the USA a few months ago) from the 5000 American ones. Point being, nuclear weapons simply don't change the strategic balance of anything. They don't make anyone more powerful. they didn't make Pakistan more powerful, they didn't make Iran more powerful, they didn't protect Israel from attack (even though they are the most likely country in the world to use them), and they are not helping north Korea. Simply put, nuclear weapons are useless and everyone knows it. It is just a boogy man technique to keep acting like it will be the end of the world for any country to get them.

posted by: Joe M. on 11.30.07 at 09:08 AM [permalink]

Joe M.: You're a great example of when people should remain silent lest they betray their ignorance. Two points to educate yourself on: the wars between Russia and Persia, the war in Chechnya, which makes Iraq look like a church picnic.

posted by: Rob the Great on 11.30.07 at 09:08 AM [permalink]

Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses...

posted by: R on 11.30.07 at 09:08 AM [permalink]

Joe M,
Thanks for your personal insights - i did not know that you lived in the Middle East - it adds a personal perspective to your views that i readily admit that i dont have - i am from India and have been in the US the past 7 years.

All that being said i still dont agree with you when you say that the USA is more violent than China and/or Russia. Can you please explain what exactly that means ? Like i said before the suicide bombers, car bombs are the work of Al-Qaeda and other Sunni/terrorist groups. Who exactly is the biggest hinderance to peace in Iraq today ? The barbarism of Al Qaeda was so bad that even the Sunni tribes have turned on them.

I dont have remind you or any one how China still stifles internal dissent or sometimes ruthlessly crushes it ( Tinamennen in 89). Russia is no better ,where Putin has effectively squashed all internal opposition.

The US has lesser troops in Afghanistan than any time before - the trouble there today is because of the resurgence of the Taliban getting arms, aid, comfort and moral support from Pakistan. The Afghan Govt is weak as hell and Karzai is nothing more than the Mayor of Kabul. If America were to unleash really ruthless attacks, Afghanistan would be nothing more than Kabul.

You can say just about anything for the Vietnam tragedy. It was America's darkest hour - a tragedy if you noticed has deeply divided the country - even after a good 30 years it came back in a rather ugly way to bite John Kerry in the back in the 04 elections. My point is that the American public has tried to grapple with the moral cost of its interventions overseas, some thing that has been re-inforced by the early disaster of the Iraq war. When you say that the country is responsible for the deaths of millions, it almost sounds as though the US is baying for blood. As far as the Korean war goes, the North tried to forcibly invade the South - its been 50 years since that war happened and the South has emerged as an economic powerhouse and a democracy while the North has been reduced to getting food and oil from China and the South.

Also as much as i feel bad for Iranians, it is the core point of my fear about the Iranian regime - if this is how Iran treats its own citizens what makes you think that it wont try to use nuclear weapons as leverage as and when the regime sees fit ? Suspicions about the Iranian nuclear program arose after the AQ Khan smuggling ring was busted and it became known that he sold designs for centrifuges to enrich uranium. Britain, France and Germany have been trying to talk to Iran for the last 5 years. These concerns about Iran cannot be washed off as just "American belligerence".

If all Iran wanted to do was just develop electricity, believe me the IAEA would have given it a clean chit a long long time back. The IAEA Chief still says that he does not have every piece of information that he has requested the Iranian Govt to give the agency. It is very clear that Iran is simply trying to gain time and prolong these negotiations as much as it can.

The US support for distasteful regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt etc is some thing that every one outside the "pragmatic foreign policy establishment" hates. Even during the 2nd World War, it had to ally with Stalinist Russia even though it has nothing in common with Stalins world view. But at the same time he was the lesser devil than Hitler's Nazism. In fact the US policy in most foreign policy areas seems to be choosing the lesser devil.

As you have pointed Islamist fundamentalists are popular in the Middle East including Iran ( which is still relatively more liberal than the rest of the region). And to make things worse , it sits atop an oil rich region - the US policy is flawed and is driven by energy considerations. People who keep telling us how we should not molly coddle Islamic dictators will be the first ones to complain when the price of gas goes above 3$/gallon.

To summarize, there are a lot of reasonable reasons to be concerned about Iran being a nuclear armed state - i am not going to be influenced by what John Abizaid SAYS as much as i am going to be influenced by how the Iranian Govt ACTS. In this sense, Dan does pose the relevant question - how are the Chinese and Russians going to deal with the idea of a nuclear armed Iran.? From Putin's talks with the highest power in Iran it is pretty obvious that he is concerned about it. I dont know what the Chinese are thinking.

BTW, i think the Iranians are going to get their nuclear weapons - if you think that there is nothing to worry about, i hope that you are right - even though i fear that those hopes are essentially meaningless.

posted by: NS on 11.30.07 at 09:08 AM [permalink]

This is really so 'off' it's hard to know where to start.
The Russians have contracted to build and supply fuel for an electrical generating plant which will take up some of the generating losses caused by degradation of oilfield infrastructure ; a result of US embargo which precedes current dysfunctional further international initiatives.
Did you notice the early reaction in India was to refuse the American power generation plan as having too many conditions and buy four (!) from the U.S.S.R. instead ?
The neighbours must be terribly worried. A number of Caspian Sea states made a joint announcement with the Russians not too long ago that they would facilitate Iran's receiving fuel supplies.
The kicker in the scenario is Israel, which is in a poisonous relationship with the US where they have to march to NeoCon orders : though the ongoing supply of weapons materiel only provides more temptation to use it in an unstable region.
There was an article at Russian News which outlined the differences in reactor fuel vis-a-vis what the Russians are providing. To make nuke weapons from that fuel you'd need a different type of reactor !
'Breeders' are a terribly scary unstable bitch of a technical challenge which isn't going to happen. I don't even want the damned thing here in Canada to reprocess nuclear fuel. Shut-downs will always be challenged by the fact runaway reactions can occur too quickly for the physical mechanical controls to regulate.
Long and short of the situation ? Smoke and mirrors. Russia's nukes are ICBM mounted already and have been for a long time. That hasn't deterred Bush from revoking nuclear arms limitation treaties and playing 'silly-buggers' over installation of 'anti-terrorist' missiles in Eastern Europe.
That's why the Brit military 'blew the whistle' about American nukes going into UK military installations : the same as happened in Goose Bay, Labrador almost 60 years ago. They don't need to paint 'bulls-eye' on themselves for Russian MIRVs.
My 'best read' ?

posted by: opit on 11.30.07 at 09:08 AM [permalink]

Opit: true it may be that the Russian-supplied fuel services to Bushehr are not weapons-grade, nor for that matter is the light water reactor there a proliferation concern. But eyebrows are being raised by the existence of the parallel enrichment facility at Natanz, which is unnecessary if the only reactor in Iran that would need enriched uranium is being supplied by Russia. Moreover, the heavy water reactor under construction at Arak is a plutonium factory waiting to happen.

posted by: matt on 11.30.07 at 09:08 AM [permalink]

I live in the USA now and have for the last 4 years. But much of my family is in the Arab world and i go back and forth now and then.

And in terms of violence, i do think the USA is the most violent country in the world. There is no doubt that China is worse to it's own people than the USA, and that Russia is less free domestically than the USA, But the USA causes much much more violence. The USA might not be the only ones doing the killing in Iraq (they might not even be doing the most killing), but they caused the killing (also, as seymour hersh points out all the time, you never hear about what the USA is actually doing in Iraq. What happens when the use their F16s, and what happens during their operations... I am sure they are killing many more people than is being reported.). And i don't know much about Afghanistan, but much of the violence there is cause by the American (and the token European) presence as well. But too, I don't think that the Arab dictators would survive two weeks without American support (so i blame the USA largely for that. not to mention Israel). That is not to say that i don't think the USA does anything right, it's AIDS policy has been pretty good (though not enough). But when it comes to violence, they cause the most. They are responsible for the most violence in the world. no doubt.

Also, Just to be 100% clear, there are no questions that Iran has not answered (according to the IAEA report). The report says:
“The Agency has been able to conclude that answers provided on the declared past P-1 and P-2 centrifuge programmes are consistent with its findings. The Agency will, however, continue to seek corroboration and is continuing to verify the completeness of Iran’s declarations.”
and that
“Iran has provided sufficient access to individuals and has responded in a timely manner to questions and provided clarifications and amplifications on issues raised in the context of the work plan. However its cooperation has been reactive rather than proactive.”

And if you want to claim that this says Iran is not cooperating, you are wrong. because the report makes clear that "reactive" nature of the cooperation is because Iran suspended it's voluntary participation in the Additional Protocol after the UNSC put sanctions on them. Not because they are doing anything wrong.

Lastly, I will just repeat again that i don't think Iran is any more dangerous with nuclear weapons than anyone else. In fact, I think the USA and Israel are the most dangerous nuclear countries in the world. Israel because they are just that jumpy and mean, the USA because they are trying to develop "bunker buster" nuclear weapons and clearly want the ability to use tactical nukes. The Iranian government has done nothing to show me that they are belligerent, and in fact seem to be acting completely rationally. But American power seems to have gone to its head and made it more willing to attack anyone they want. I don't think Iran would use nuclear weapons, and even, all of their top religious authorities have said that nuclear weapons are unislamic. Plus, again, as i said before, I think that John Abizaid has shown that even the military establishment realizes that Iran does not gain much by having nuclear weapons (even though there is no evidence they are trying to produce them).

And back to the original question, all of this seems to show me that Russia and China have no major interests in helping the USA sanction or attack Iran. Any war or sanctions would just put them in worse positions then they are now (when they can balance each side on each other) and have access to Iran and it's resources. So, again, the "end game" for these countries seems to me to be to simply wait until there is a new president in the USA and hope that it makes it easier for them to play a productive role.

posted by: Joe M. on 11.30.07 at 09:08 AM [permalink]

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