June 9, 2010

Iran sanctions - Kabuki dance, part four

On Tuesday. June 8, with great fanfare and an obvious reference to the Obama Administration's talking points, both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice hailed what they believed was going to be a successful Security Council vote on the imposition of another round of sanctions on Iran. Clinton and Rice both claimed the sanctions will have a "significant" impact on Iran.

On Wednesday, June 9, the Security Council voted 12-2 in favor of the sanctions resolution. Brazil and Turkey, current members of the council, voted against it in support of their May sham agreement with Iran on control over a portion of Iran's low enriched uranium (LEU). That agreement, in which Iran agreed to ship some of its LEU to Turkey, may now be in jeopardy with the passage of the new sanctions. Lebanon abstained on the vote, no surprise given the influential role of Iran-backed Hizballah in the government there.

The two American diplomats had reason to be confident that the the sanctions resolution would garner enough votes to pass, and that it would not be vetoed by any of the five permanent members (United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China). The United States has spent months trying to convince Russia and China to go along with yet another round of sanctions on Iran - the earlier three rounds have done nothing to slow Iran's nuclear program.

So what deft diplomacy brought the Chinese and Russians to the table? Did our State Department convince the two skeptical powers that Iran's nuclear ambitions pose a threat to the world? Did we offer enough evidence to overcome the lure of lucrative business deals for Chinese and Russian commercial enterprises? Did Moscow and Beijing go along out of solidarity with Washington?

Hardly. This sanctions regime is nothing more than a Kabuki dance, just more political theater - the playbill for which has been massaged and watered down so much that it is almost meaningless. In fact, the Chinese and Russians were stalling as late as the day before the vote in the Security Council, wordsmithing the already watered down text to be even weaker than it already was. Now instead of the "biting" sanctions we were led to expect by the Administration, we end up with text laced with phrases like "states are urged to" and "parties area called on to" in the resolution.

More significant are the backroom deals by the Administration which exempts many Chinese and Russian companies from any unilateral American sanctions in return for support at the United Nations. It appears that in its desperation to get something passed by the Security Council we have effectively defanged our own unilateral sanctions on Iran.

Are these sanctions going to be any more successful than the last three rounds? Does anyone believe that another resolution is going to convince the Iranians to slow their quest for nuclear weapons? I don't. The cartoon at the top says it all - Iran sits on a sea of oil. The world's economy runs on oil, and as long as Iran has it to sell, countries will make deals with them. As long as Iran has money to spend on technology that advances its nuclear ambitions, countries and companies will make deals with them. The Iranians have shown themselves to be adept at evading the existing weak sanctions, and I expect they will continue to be in the future.

Back to the American diplomats. Ambassador Rice comments that the United States is still committed to the "dual-track approach, pressure through sanctions coupled with negotiations." I hate to use a trite phrase, but how is that working so far? The pressure through sanctions has failed and Iran has been very clear (the President is big on clarity) that it is not interested in negotiations with us.

As I did in mid-May, I ask, did I miss the "crippling" sanctions on Iran? No, I didn't - because there aren't any. The dance begins....