Iran continues to thumb its nose at the rest of the world over its nuclear program. They have repeatedly missed deadlines to meet international obligations, yet there have been almost no consequences for its behavior. They have consistently politically outmaneuvered the West, including the United States.
It is obvious that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is out of her league in dealing with the Iranians. The Iranian leadership has assessed - apparently correctly - that the United States, the West and the United Nations are incapable of imposing effective, coordinated sanctions on the country. It appears that only the U.S. Congress has been somewhat successful in crafting legislation that will impose limited sanctions on Iran.
Yet, we are treated to a steady barrage of Mrs. Clinton's optimistic statements that international actions against the regime in Tehran are imminent, indicating that she has cobbled together the support required to successfully pass a UN Security Council Resolution. Perhaps she is doing this in the stealth mode and the public statements of the Russians and Chinese are cover for her deft diplomacy. Somehow, I doubt it.
There seems to be no change in the Chinese position, and at best conflicting and confusing statements from the Russians. Just this week, while Mrs. Clinton was making her public pronouncements about the improved prospects for new sanctions on Iran, the Chinese foreign minister reiterated the longstanding Chinese position that the Iranian nuclear issue be resolved by "diplomatic efforts and negotiations" and proposed "resuming dialogue."
The Russian statements are particularly intriguing. The Russian foreign minister said that it was "almost time" to apply "appropriate pressure" - he seems to have a problem with the word "sanctions."
Here's why. The Russians have a long-term relationship with the Iranian armed forces - they have been the primary supplier of weapons to Iran for years now. They make a lot of money selling weapons to Tehran - they are loathe to cut off that source of revenue. In fact, the chief of one of Russia's major arms exporters clarified his government's position - none of the current sanctions protocols enacted by the United Nations preclude Russia from selling arms to Iran. Pretty effective sanctions regime, right?
The Russian statement about arms is troubling since Moscow signed a contract in 2007 to supply Iran with the S-300 (NATO: SA-20 GARGOYLE) air defense system. Although there have been no confirmed deliveries, the acquisition of the SA-20 will significantly improve Iran's air defense capabilities, and conversely complicate Israeli military planning should an air strike on Iran's nuclear facilities be ordered.
Not only are the Chinese and Russians not fully on board with sanctions, neither is the International Atomic Energy Agency. While the world's economic leaders meet in Switzerland, the IAEA stated that a proposed enriched uranium exchange deal with Iran is still on the table, and that the organization and that "dialogue was continuing."
Let's recap and put Mrs. Clinton's efforts into perspective. Neither Russia nor China, both permanent members of the UN Security Council with veto power, are fully committed to effective sanctions on Iran. The UN's nuclear watchdog agency thinks it is still negotiating what most believe is an already-dead proposal with Tehran.
Regardless of how she spins it, it would appear that Iran continues to diplomatically outmaneuver our Secretary of State.