Posts Tagged ‘China and Iran’s Nuclear Program’

President Obama’s Trip to China

November 19, 2009

President Obama’s recent trip to China has been called a failure by many policy analysts and media personalities.  The president failed to reach any substantive agreement with Chinese leaders on issues like currency policy, human rights, climate change or Iran’s nuclear program.  Stephen Walt attributes this diplomatic disappointment to American policies and calamities over the last eight years , such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the financial crisis and large budget deficits(http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/11/18/chastened_in_china). 

But Mr. Walt ignores the core interests of Chinese leaders, which influence China’s policies much more than US actions.  Top officials in the Chinese Communist Party/Chinese government are focused on maintaining power, and they believe that sustaining economic growth and limiting political freedoms are the keys to success in that regard.  To foster economic development, China’s leaders seek energy resources and high levels of exports.  They do not want to set limits on emissions, let their currency appreciate, or impose sanctions on Iran (a country that is major source of oil and gas for China) because such policies could adversely affect the Chinese economy.  Basic liberties such as democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press and the right to assemble are viewed as sources of instability that could threaten the Communist Party’s hold on power, so Chinese leaders have no interest in promoting Western notions of human rights.

Thus, even if the US were not plagued by two wars, a major economic downturn and large deficits, it is unlikely that American leaders would be able to extract the concessions that they seek from Chinese policymakers.

The Upcoming P5+1 Talks

September 30, 2009

Last week, the leaders of the US, France and Britain publicly revealed that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been informed about the existence of a uranium enrichment facility near the city of Qum in Iran.  This revelation came just days before the planned P5+1 talks between the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Iran about the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, which will take place tomorrow in Geneva.  On his ForeignPolicy.com blog, Marc Lynch speculated about why the existence of the site was recently disclosed (http://lynch.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/09/25/the_iran_nuclear_revelation).

Mr. Lynch argues that the revelation strengthens the bargaining position of the P5.  But the disclosure will not likely be a significant game-changer.  The European powers were already convinced of the need to compel Iran to allow intrusive IAEA inspections, and they apparently are still more concerned about the Iranian nuclear program than the US. 

Meanwhile, the new information will merely reinforce Israeli fears that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons.  This fact gives the Iranians leverage because the US wants to quickly reach a deal with Iran to ward off a threatened Israeli military strike that could have disastrous consequences for the US and the Middle East region.

Despite the disclosure of the Qum facility, the Russians and the Chinese will still likely veto any harsh economic sanctions against Iran because the two countries have strategic relationships with the Islamic Republic, especially when it comes to energy. 

Any deal between Iran and the West will probably entail an Iranian agreement to report the location of all of its nuclear facilities and allow IAEA inspectors to closely monitor them.  In return, other powers will acknowledge Iran’s right to maintain a peaceful nuclear program and give the country economic benefits.  In addition, the US may reestablish diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic for the first time in 30 years.

Whether such an agreement will be reached at the upcoming meeting is uncertain.  And even if a deal is made, the Iranians could still pursue a secret nuclear weapons program, especially if they believe it serves their vital national interests.

The P5+1 negotiations might bear fruit and head off an international crisis.  But the exposure of the Qum site will probably not play a major role in such a development.