In today’s Washington Post, Zbigniew Brzezinski argues for a patient American approach to Iran’s nuclear program, saying that the Chinese can be our partner in helping to stop the Iranians. “China, despite its meteoric rise toward global preeminence, currently is geopolitically a status quo power,” Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser states.
Zbig, after his recent talks with Chinese leaders, tells us they are concerned about the fallout of “a major U.S.-Iran collision” and the Chinese are ardent supporters of “strategic patience.” Once we sit down with the Iranians at the negotiating table, “China could help break the stalemate.” In Brzezinski’s mind, negotiations with Iran would follow the North Korean model. We are on the path to peace in North Asia because the United States dropped its confrontational policy, he contends. Then he adds this: “Even more important, China’s abandonment of its initial reticence eventually proved vital to convincing Pyongyang that its own political intransigence could become suicidal.”
Too bad Brzezinski could not have read the New York Times before penning his op-ed. This morning the paper reports that everyone is hitting a dead end in dealing with the Iranians over their nuclear program. “The chosen strategy of pressure and engagement is not working,” said a European official involved with Tehran. “As a result, you have a lot of people desperately banging on the door of the Iranians. All of them are coming back empty-handed.” The Iranians, the Times reports, believe that renewed diplomatic effort on the part of others is proof that their defiance is working. That’s making any talks with them, in a word, counterproductive.
The other major flaw in Brzezinski’s reasoning is that the Chinese actually helped broker a deal with Pyongyang. There’s no question they sponsored dialogue with the North Koreans, arranging the multilateral talks that continue to this day. Yet that’s not the same as promoting a solution. Beijing, by dragging out the negotiations, gave Kim Jong Il the one thing he needed to construct his bomb: time. And after the detonation of the North Korean device in October 2006, the record shows that there was real progress—if we can call it that—only when Christopher Hill, the State Department’s point man, met with his North Korean counterparts without the Chinese present.
Now, Chinese leaders are proposing to Brzezinski that the Iranians get even more time to build a bomb. Tehran, which earlier this month announced that it has 3,000 centrifuges fully working, needs two years at most before it possesses the fissile material for its weapon.
Hasn’t Brzezinski learned from the mistakes of his old boss? In 1994, Jimmy Carter arranged a deal with the North Koreans that ended up giving them almost another decade to perfect their nuclear weapons technology. Zbig, at this moment, wants to provide to the Iranians a similar opportunity.