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Iran’s Nuclear Program: Diplomacy Has Almost Run Its Course


Late yesterday, envoys of the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany (the “P5+1″ — which has led the effort to halt Iran’s nuclear breakout) reached agreement on the second sanctions resolution, which imposes a few additional sanctions.  According to one report:

The new draft resolution gives Iran another 60 days to comply or face the threat of further sanctions…. Under the package, all conventional weapons exports from Iran will be banned and the assets of more Iranian groups and companies will be frozen…. The text also calls on countries to “exercise vigilance and restraint” on selling heavy weapons to Iran.  The package discourages nations and international financial institutions from entering into new deals for grants, financial assistance and loans except “for humanitarian and developmental purposes”.  No mandatory travel embargo has been proposed for Iran’s nuclear officials but governments are required to notify a council sanctions committee if any named people were passing through.

But China was hesitant over the draft deal saying the text should not go beyond the main objective.  “The main objective is our concern about Iranian nuclear and missile activities,” Wang Guangya, China’s ambassador to the UN, said.  “So there is no need to expand beyond that area.” 

China worked to shorten the list of companies on the sanctions list, because its state-owned enterprises have so many transactions with so many of them.  And indeed, China is not wrong to object that it is being forced to pay a higher price than the United States in order to solve a problem that is of interest most of all to the United States.  The administration has downplayed this objection, taking the position that the Iran crisis represents a test of China’s intentions and of the strategic relationship being forged between it and the United States.  I have always disagreed with this position.  As Churchill said, it is those states most directly concerned with a problem that can be expected to apply themselves vigorously to its solution.  China is right.  It is the U.N. Charter that is wrong, by forcing states to concern themselves with problems that are no concern of theirs, and limiting the options of the states which are the most worried to those approved by the states which are the least worried. 

At any rate, diplomatic options have now virtually run dry.  It is clear that the P5+1 have now gone as far as they are willing to go together in imposing sanctions.  The great lesson in all this for the diplomatic option in future crises, has been not simply the non-surprising weakness of the Security Council, but the surprising strength of the U.S. Treasury Department, which in recent months has quietly and methodically enveloped Iran’s demand for international finance in a hornet’s nest of political risk.

The ball now is in Iran’s court.  In violation of its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Iran has started curtailing access to International Atomic Energy Agency inspections and threatens more if further sanctions are imposed.  Worse, Iran has made it clear that it will reject all Security Council resolutions, thus declaring that it will not be bound by its obligations under the U.N. Charter. 

Fine.  Then as to Iran, the United States will not be bound by its obligations under the U.N. Charter either, including the Charter prohibition on the use of force.

The “diplomatic option” (modern euphemism for a carrots-but-no-sticks approach) has almost run its course.  It has succeeded only in emboldening the Iranians and making them more belligerent.  The time for talking to them in a language that they will find more convincing, and that is more likely to gentle their disposition, is now approaching fast. 


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