Commentary Magazine


Topic: Rick Richman

Stick a Fork in It

The Jan. 16 meeting of the P5+1 ended ingloriously. The U.S. representative said the P5+1, which will confer again by phone this month, remains committed to the “dual track” approach, in which the possibility of sanctions on Iran is part of the “pressure track.” Western media uniformly characterize the meeting’s outcome as indecisive; but although Russia’s envoy made no definitive pronouncements, the headline at state-owned media outlet RIA Novosti was categorical: “Iran Six decides [sic] against new sanctions on Tehran.”

China, meanwhile, created impressive diplomatic theater by shifting veteran P5+1 negotiator He Yafei to a new post just before the Jan. 16 meeting, sending a low-ranking functionary in his stead and failing to provide contact information for Mr. He’s replacement. According to the UK Times, the P5+1 negotiators don’t know whom to contact in Beijing to schedule the phone conversation proposed for later this month.  The Washington Post reports that “diplomats said they did not know China’s motive” for these measures, but it cites the diplomats’ speculating — with straight faces, as far as we know — that “it might be to illustrate Beijing’s resistance to punishing Iran with more sanctions or dismay at U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.” China’s obstructionist behavior effectively ended any hope for progress on Saturday.

This meeting, of course, was the threat hanging over Iran if it elected not to comply with President Obama’s Dec. 31 deadline. As Rick Richman pointed out last week, Obama’s State Department was already soft-peddling the deadline in mid-December, an approach unlikely to impress Iran with our seriousness. In fairness, however, making such an impression would require overcoming the relentless countersignals coming from our negotiating partners, whose businesses have spent recent months deepening their commercial ties with Iran. Whether it’s France’s Total SA bidding with China to develop Iranian gas fields or German port operator HPC contracting to manage the container port in Iran’s Bandar Abbas complex, our P5+1 partners are engaging themselves to make a lot of money from precisely the commercial activities we would have to sanction to affect Iran’s nuclear aspirations.

Recent summaries like the ones here and here recount the many ways in which commerce is outrunning the political sentiment for sanctions. That sentiment is by no means strong or unified to begin with: Russia has been extraordinarily consistent in its position that there’s no evidence Iran is even pursuing nuclear weapons. Vladimir Putin reiterated that position on Jan. 7 after two previous Russian assertions to the same effect in December (here and here). Indeed, Putin said it in 2008, 2007, and 2005, a record we have heroically disregarded in our eagerness to negotiate alongside Moscow.

Obama’s effort, launched in September with the dramatic revelation about the nuclear site near Qom, is done. On assuming the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council on Jan. 5, China announced that sanctions against Iran will not be on the council’s agenda for January — a promise more credible than Obama’s December deadline. Either we change the pace of our diplomacy right now, or the nations concerned will conclude that U.S. diplomacy is irrelevant. Procrastination at this point means certain failure.

The Jan. 16 meeting of the P5+1 ended ingloriously. The U.S. representative said the P5+1, which will confer again by phone this month, remains committed to the “dual track” approach, in which the possibility of sanctions on Iran is part of the “pressure track.” Western media uniformly characterize the meeting’s outcome as indecisive; but although Russia’s envoy made no definitive pronouncements, the headline at state-owned media outlet RIA Novosti was categorical: “Iran Six decides [sic] against new sanctions on Tehran.”

China, meanwhile, created impressive diplomatic theater by shifting veteran P5+1 negotiator He Yafei to a new post just before the Jan. 16 meeting, sending a low-ranking functionary in his stead and failing to provide contact information for Mr. He’s replacement. According to the UK Times, the P5+1 negotiators don’t know whom to contact in Beijing to schedule the phone conversation proposed for later this month.  The Washington Post reports that “diplomats said they did not know China’s motive” for these measures, but it cites the diplomats’ speculating — with straight faces, as far as we know — that “it might be to illustrate Beijing’s resistance to punishing Iran with more sanctions or dismay at U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.” China’s obstructionist behavior effectively ended any hope for progress on Saturday.

This meeting, of course, was the threat hanging over Iran if it elected not to comply with President Obama’s Dec. 31 deadline. As Rick Richman pointed out last week, Obama’s State Department was already soft-peddling the deadline in mid-December, an approach unlikely to impress Iran with our seriousness. In fairness, however, making such an impression would require overcoming the relentless countersignals coming from our negotiating partners, whose businesses have spent recent months deepening their commercial ties with Iran. Whether it’s France’s Total SA bidding with China to develop Iranian gas fields or German port operator HPC contracting to manage the container port in Iran’s Bandar Abbas complex, our P5+1 partners are engaging themselves to make a lot of money from precisely the commercial activities we would have to sanction to affect Iran’s nuclear aspirations.

Recent summaries like the ones here and here recount the many ways in which commerce is outrunning the political sentiment for sanctions. That sentiment is by no means strong or unified to begin with: Russia has been extraordinarily consistent in its position that there’s no evidence Iran is even pursuing nuclear weapons. Vladimir Putin reiterated that position on Jan. 7 after two previous Russian assertions to the same effect in December (here and here). Indeed, Putin said it in 2008, 2007, and 2005, a record we have heroically disregarded in our eagerness to negotiate alongside Moscow.

Obama’s effort, launched in September with the dramatic revelation about the nuclear site near Qom, is done. On assuming the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council on Jan. 5, China announced that sanctions against Iran will not be on the council’s agenda for January — a promise more credible than Obama’s December deadline. Either we change the pace of our diplomacy right now, or the nations concerned will conclude that U.S. diplomacy is irrelevant. Procrastination at this point means certain failure.

Read Less

Re: Axis of Uranium Meets Middle East Peace Process

How many Middle Eastern leaders have to visit Brazil in one month for the U.S. State Department to figure out something’s going on? More than three, apparently. After I wrote Friday’s post on the serial visits of Peres, Abbas, and Ahmadinejad, Rick Richman called my attention to the exchange in the State Department briefing on Ahmadinejad’s visit:

QUESTION: Ahmadinejad is going to be visiting Brazil in a couple of days. Is the fact that a friendly government like that welcoming Ahmadinejad – does that tend to dilute international solidarity on the nuclear issue?

MR. WOOD: Well, President Ahmadinejad going to Brazil, that’s an issue between the Government of Brazil and the Government of Iran. What we would hope is that the Government of Brazil would raise some of these concerns that we have, many of which I’ve just laid out here, about Iran in those meetings. But beyond that, I don’t have anything to add to that.

So: Brazil is hosting the three major regional players in Middle Eastern dynamics this month. One of them is the president of Iran, the revolutionary, terrorist-sponsoring state Obama is trying to pressure on its nuclear program. Brazil – a nuclear client of Russia – has been following Venezuela’s path toward “increased economic ties” with Iran, which in literal terms means banking arrangements that circumvent sanctions, plus plenty of “legitimate” manufacturing and container shipping to obscure trade in prohibited goods. And the views of our State Department on these circumstances boil down to an absurdly banal bromide (the Ahmadinejad visit is “an issue between Brazil and Iran”) and a “hope” that Brazil will raise some of our concerns with the Iranian president.

Far from acting as our deputy, Brazil seems to be positioning itself to gain leverage with Iran regardless of how its policies undermine the P5+1’s threat of sanctions. Mahmoud Abbas probably overestimates the leverage Brazil already has with Iran, but in requesting Lula da Silva’s help with discouraging the Iran-Hamas link, he has shown a keener understanding of this month’s diplomatic flurry than Foggy Bottom.

One projection seems sound: if Brazil does go through with a line of credit for Iran, we should expect that move to bring Brazil into conflict with the U.S. Treasury Department, as Venezuela’s similar activities have in the past. What we do about such a financial arrangement between Iran and Brazil will tell both parties – and all our negotiating partners – everything they need to know about the credibility of Obama’s threats of sanctions.

How many Middle Eastern leaders have to visit Brazil in one month for the U.S. State Department to figure out something’s going on? More than three, apparently. After I wrote Friday’s post on the serial visits of Peres, Abbas, and Ahmadinejad, Rick Richman called my attention to the exchange in the State Department briefing on Ahmadinejad’s visit:

QUESTION: Ahmadinejad is going to be visiting Brazil in a couple of days. Is the fact that a friendly government like that welcoming Ahmadinejad – does that tend to dilute international solidarity on the nuclear issue?

MR. WOOD: Well, President Ahmadinejad going to Brazil, that’s an issue between the Government of Brazil and the Government of Iran. What we would hope is that the Government of Brazil would raise some of these concerns that we have, many of which I’ve just laid out here, about Iran in those meetings. But beyond that, I don’t have anything to add to that.

So: Brazil is hosting the three major regional players in Middle Eastern dynamics this month. One of them is the president of Iran, the revolutionary, terrorist-sponsoring state Obama is trying to pressure on its nuclear program. Brazil – a nuclear client of Russia – has been following Venezuela’s path toward “increased economic ties” with Iran, which in literal terms means banking arrangements that circumvent sanctions, plus plenty of “legitimate” manufacturing and container shipping to obscure trade in prohibited goods. And the views of our State Department on these circumstances boil down to an absurdly banal bromide (the Ahmadinejad visit is “an issue between Brazil and Iran”) and a “hope” that Brazil will raise some of our concerns with the Iranian president.

Far from acting as our deputy, Brazil seems to be positioning itself to gain leverage with Iran regardless of how its policies undermine the P5+1’s threat of sanctions. Mahmoud Abbas probably overestimates the leverage Brazil already has with Iran, but in requesting Lula da Silva’s help with discouraging the Iran-Hamas link, he has shown a keener understanding of this month’s diplomatic flurry than Foggy Bottom.

One projection seems sound: if Brazil does go through with a line of credit for Iran, we should expect that move to bring Brazil into conflict with the U.S. Treasury Department, as Venezuela’s similar activities have in the past. What we do about such a financial arrangement between Iran and Brazil will tell both parties – and all our negotiating partners – everything they need to know about the credibility of Obama’s threats of sanctions.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.