Five US administrations, going back to former president Jimmy Carter, have
imposed sanctions on Iran. And years of failed diplomatic efforts to get Iran to
sit down to formal negotiations have led the US and most European nations to
conclude that the imposition of sanctions was the best option to try and get
Iran to comply with its international obligations under the UN Charter and the
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which it is a signatory.
President Barack Obama has said his desire was to resolve the Iran issue through
diplomatic means, he appears to understand that ultimately, Iran is a threat to
the entire free world and that their threats to attack the West must be taken
seriously. He stated, “We are not taking any options off the table. Iran
with nuclear weapons would pose a threat not only to the region but also to the
But China and Russia have a different agenda. They have
measured their priorities on Iran differently than the West and their
relationship with the Iranian regime is proving dangerous to world
Ultimately, the fundamental question here that must be asked
is: Why do Russia and China appear to support Iran at a time when the West seeks
to sanction Iran over their nuclear-weapons program?
At a press conference after
the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Hawaii on Sunday, Obama
expressed interest in discussing further the issue of Iran with Russian leader
Dmitry Medvedev and Chinese president Hu Jintao – both of whom have consistently
dragged their feet when it came to getting tough on Iran.
2011, Obama hosted a state dinner in honor of Jintao.
At a joint press
conference, Obama said, “I absolutely believe that China’s peaceful rise is good
for the world and it’s good for America.”
But what peaceful rise was he
referring to? The Communist Party has been in power since 1949 and continues its
wide-scale practice of religious oppression. Though the country has
partially switched to a capitalist market model, it has not fully done so and the regime is still authoritarian in other areas including preventing freedom of
speech, the right to a fair trial and basic human rights.
the Muslims of East Turkestan have lived under Chinese occupation for years,
experiencing cruel treatment at the hands of the regime.
Party continues to resort to violence to remain in power – a political tool not
unlike that used by Iran’s repressive regime during the 2009
China ranks as the world’s second largest economy after the
United States. The country is also the largest exporter and second largest
importer of goods in the world.
With this kind of economic power, China
is a major player not only on an economic level but also on political and
diplomatic levels, as well.
And this is clearly seen at the UN where its
position as a major global force has rendered it a powerful player when it comes
to deciding on votes, the outcome of which often have global
According to John S. Park, a USIP senior research
associate focusing on Northeast Asian security, economic and energy issues,
“Beijing’s energy needs increasingly defined its political ties with
According to Sanam Vakil, a scholar on Middle East studies,
“Iran is using its carefully cultivated commercial and strategic relations with
China, Russia and India to counterbalance the threat of Western sanctions
against its nuclear program.”
Two years ago, Saudi Arabia was replaced by
Iran as the leading supplier of oil to China.
Today, the industry-energy
relationship between China and Iran is extremely important for both
Sanctions against Iran have only deepened this relationship as
Iran relies more on China for its needs. China too, has turned to Iran as its
energy needs have greatly expanded in recent years.
Less competition from
companies in Western nations due to sanctions on Iran serves China well as it
looks to keep expenditures on energy down.
China exported oil until 1993
but now needs it for domestic use. For this reason, it needs to look elsewhere
and Iran, under heavy sanctions from the West, serves China’s needs
In turn, China has become a major exporter of manufactured
goods to Iran.
China also shares deep historical roots with Iran, which
go back to the days of early civilization. The people of both areas have engaged
in trade and diplomatic relations for centuries.
Their relationship today
is therefore based on a relationship forged for centuries between leaders of
According to Park, Sino-Iranian relations are defined by
First, over the years, Beijing intensified efforts to secure
energy resources from the Middle East. Commercial ties with Iran became a top
priority. Beijing fed its increasing need for Iranian oil, while Teheran
imported more Chinese manufactured goods.”
Second, and ironically,
Teheran has clashed with China over its treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang
Province. “Ayatollah Jafar Sobhani said, ‘...The unprotected Muslims are being
mercilessly suppressed by yesterday’s communist China and today’s capitalist
China.’ Iran’s foreign ministry expressed support for ‘the rights of Chinese
This is ironic as Iran has never respected the rights of its own
Third, sanctions against Iran have presented an incredible
strategic opportunity for Chinese companies to gain a better foothold in Iran
now that Western companies have left a void, drastically reducing
With the West’s struggle against a nuclear Iran, China has
made progress far more difficult.
According to Republic of China’s
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei, China believes sanctions against Iran won’t
fundamentally resolve problems related to the country’s nuclear
China’s strong relationship with Iran coupled with the
unwillingness to sacrifice a hugely beneficial economic relationship has placed
China on a political and diplomatic warpath with the West.
Russia wields definite power at the UN.
Russia has also taken advantage
of the “War on Terrorism” to strengthen ties with US enemies. With specific
regard to Iran, Russia has been relatively consistent in vetoing UN
According to Bloomberg, Russia wants to resolve the dispute
by lifting sanctions against Iran in stages, in return for Iranian cooperation
on inspections. The offer is “still on the negotiating table,” Russia’s Foreign
Minister Sergey Lavrov said this week. He also said, “On the possibility of new
sanctions against Iran, we believe the potential of pursuing sanctions against
Iran has been exhausted.”
Mark Katz, a professor of government and
politics at George Mason University, Russia does not necessarily have a close
relationship with Iran but still aims to build lucrative economic ties with the
Moscow’s willingness to side with the US over sanctions on Iran
has been limited.
In 2007, Russia agreed to support UN Resolution 1747
which called on states to “exercise vigilance and restraint” in supplying Iran
with weapons systems, but only because they “accused Iran of delinquency in
payments for Bushehr [nuclear plant].”
Otherwise, Russia has been guilty
of offering to supply Iran with anti-aircraft missile batteries, though Israeli
pressure appears to have slowed the process.
Katz emphasizes that Moscow
also wants to improve economic and military ties with some of Iran’s enemies,
including Israel. They have purchased at least a few drones recently from Israel
as they seek to supply its military with new technology.
While Russia is
not as concerned as the West, it does not necessarily support Iran’s pursuit of
They would rather build economic ties with Iran through
“petroleum, atomic energy and weaponry.”
Katz also explains that Moscow
has cooperated with the US for two main reasons. First, it wants to
placate the US administration with which it wants to maintain good
Second, Moscow wants to encourage the West to pursue a
multilateral diplomatic approach to dealing with Iran.
cooperative stance should not fool anyone though. Russia has its own interests
at heart as it works to build up its military and attempts to return to its
place as a global superpower.
Their intransigence at the UN should serve
as a strong signal that they are not interested in confronting Iran together
with the US and Europe.
Mark Hibbs, a senior associate in the Nuclear
Policy Program at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, based in Berlin,
emphasized that for a while already, “the Chinese and Russian governments were
signalling to their counterparts in the Western states on the board that they
would not be in favor of moving toward a resolution in the boardroom that would
cite Iran for non-compliance based on these activities cited in the [IAEA]
report... And there were many reasons for that; the primary reason given by
Russia and China is that in their view a detailed expose of these activities
given by the agency would in fact derail the diplomatic process.”
some experts argue that both Russia and China share interests with the Western
liberal powers, both countries appear to be reprioritizing their interests and
needs. If they are intentionally cementing ties with Iran, by default they are
distancing themselves from the West.
Russia and China, in focusing solely
on their own interests and slowing Western efforts to stem Iran’s race to build
the bomb, are fast destroying whatever element of world stability exists
It is their support in international forums that permits Iran to
carry on with its nuclear-weapons program.
Unless Israel and the West can
focus efforts on convincing Russia and China to switch allegiances, global
stability as we know it will soon take a turn for the worse.