The UN Security Council has passed a resolution condemning Iran for its nuclear enrichment. Key was the support of China and Russia, who have been reluctant on approving earlier drafts of resolutions against Iran.

Iran has responded by questioning why the UN has not condemned Israel for its nuclear arms. This criticism was made possible by a recent slip by Israeli PM Olmert.

The resolution has been long in the making and has been specifically tailored to make sure it would be adopted. Specifically, Bushehr, the Russian nuclear power plant built for Iran, is not mentioned. The resolution’s sanctions also allow countries to unfreeze assets of the companies dealing with Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missiles program, because freezing them is left to countries’ discretion.

It’s not clear what the US’ intentions with Iran are, but after some time out of the spotlight, Iran is back in the forefront of US foreign policy. The US this week made it its intention to pass a resolution. At the same time, reports circulated earlier this week, suggesting the US may send another carrier to the Gulf region as a sign for Iran.

It’s clear that the Iranian resolution will not stop Iran’s nuclear program, but it is a criticism of Iran which is approved by members of the Security Council, apart from the US. This is something that could be used in the future to justify US foreign policy.

Negotiations and Resolutions

December 20, 2006

While it appears that there is still no consensus on an Iranian resolution, the US wants the UN Security Council to vote on one this week. State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said the US wants the vote before the weekend.

It’s not clear yet what the resolution would be and what kind of sanctions could be imposed. Obviously, the question right now is of accommodating Russia who has vested economic interests in Iran. However, the resolution vote would be coming at a time when the US is trying to send pressure signals to Iran, even considering a bigger military presence in the region.

It also comes at a time of ongoing negotiations in Beijing: six-party talks are under way, attempting to settle the nuclear issue in North Korea. Like in the case of Iran, accommodating Russia will be an issue, with the addition of China. With permanent seats on the UN Security Council, the two states may be courted to make certain votes in exchange for support in other areas. If a successful resolution is passed in the Security Council this week, it will become clear what trade-offs China, Russia and the US have gone for, if any.

China is probably North Korea’s closest ally, but has been forced to partake in the financial sanctions against the regime. Notably, the North Koreans have made it clear at the ongoing talks that the lifting of financial sanctions will be necessary for talks to progress. While China is participating in these sanctions, it is also losing out economically by doing so. Because North Korea is as isolated as it is — with China and Russia its closest partners — it gives the Chinese a near-monopoly on North Korea’s financial markets.

Russia is involved in Iran’s civilian nuclear project and wants any resolutions to not jeopardize those projects, as it looks to gain more lucrative contracts with the country. It is also looking for a bigger role in Asia as a counter-balance to the challenges it’s receiving in Europe.

Both China and Russia have no interest in North Korea’s nuclear program developing, as that lowers their influence — the two being nuclear powers.

Speaking about Russia’s proposal to enrich uranium for Iran on Russian soil, Iranian Ambassador to Russia Gholamreza Ansari said that Russia would receive priority on the commissioning of the next two new energy blocks to be built in Iran.

The ambassador also spoke favorably about the Russian proposition, but said more details needed to be discussed in terms of financing the project.

Iran is, without a doubt, making the necessary adjustments in its discourse to show the West that it is ready to cooperate, and to help Russia maintain its anti-sanction position in the UN Security Council vis-à-vis Iran. It is also signaling that Russia has economic rewards to reap from its alliance with Iran.

Thusfar, Russia has been involved in Iran’s nuclear program by constructing the nuclear reactor at Bushehr. Ambassador Ansari’s comments today indicate that more high-profile contracts are likely for Russian businesses.

Making Democracy Work

November 14, 2006

In a bid to reclaim Western aid, authorities in the Palestine have made steps forward toward a unitary government.

Aid to Israel was cut off when Hamas was elected to the Palestinian government; Israel, Western Countries and the Arab League, all stopped funds transfers to the Palestinian Authority, leaving civil servants without pay and leaving the area economically devastated. The new unitary government is likely to be headed by a scholar, Mohammed Shabir, who is not politically affiliated but is close to Hamas.

Work on establishing a unitary government quickly went ahead after last week’s fatal week which peaked with the bombing at Beit Hanoun in the Gaza strip. The Hamas leadership made it clear that it would give place to a unitary government if that meant getting aid back to Palestine: Israel owes Palestine about $60 million a month, which is collected as a tax.

Over the weekend, the Arab League decided it would recommence fund transfers to the Palestinian Authority as a result of the Beit Hanoun killings of 19 innocent civilians. The real test for the Palestinians, though, is getting Western aid back.

The sad part in all this is that aid was blocked because of a democratically elected faction. Instead of having civil servants working to make the democracy work, the West is only promoting radicalism by leaving those servants without pay. And unwilling or not, the civilian casualties don’t help either, especially with an Israeli Prime Minister who expresses regret only to add that similar incidents “may happen” yet again.

And then, none other than the US vetoes a UN Security Council Resolution condemning Israel’s conduct in Beit Hanoun.

Will Russia Swerve on Iran?

November 10, 2006

Russia has reportedly come to an agreement with the US in regards to the county’s entrance into the WTO. The obvious question now is what has Russia given up in terms of its foreign policy to obtain the US go-ahead. Currently, the biggest disagreement between the two states are the Iranian sanctions to be discussed at the UN Security Council; the initially-proposed sanctions were edited and weakened by Russia to reflect Russia’s partnership with Iran.

Today, Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani was in talks in Moscow to persuade Russia not to steer away from its position. The Iranians, of course, need the support of Moscow as it is virtually its sole diplomatic ally for the nuclear program. However, the WTO may be a significant incentive for Russia to alter its stance — the country has been trying to enter the trade organization for years. On the other hand, the Russians are building Iran’s first nuclear power plant in Bushehr, an $800 million project. If the project is successful, the Russians stand to gain more contracts in the country.

In fact, it’s almost advantageous to be the sole supporter of the nuclear program and have a monopoly on similar contracts.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is off on an Asian tour as a response to North Korea’s recent nuclear test. It is contended that a second test is possible and it is necessary to discuss all the sanctions put into place. (Cf: “Rice to rally Asians on N Korea”.)

The move, along with recent US activity at the UN Security Council, is a bold departure from some initial perceptions of the test being a bluff. This indicates a big political victory for the leadership of North Korea — with attention currently on Iran and it’s uranium enrichment program, the Koreans have surprised everyone. And everyone has been caught without a clear or definitive plan.

The Koreans now have a lot of leverage and can expect negotiations, because sanctions might not be effective for a country which has long been isolated diplomatically (cf: “Negotiations Must Follow UN’s North Korea Action, Analysts Say”). This is not new — under Clinton, a lot had been generated with similar threats, but this time the weapons are actually there. (For a detailed article on the Clinton negotiations, cf: “Appeasing North Korea: the Clinton Legacy”)

No matter the rhetoric, these weapons are unlikely to be used. Once, the Soviet Union matched the United States in its nuclear capability, the lure of the atom bomb, was no longer the same. With other world powers acquiring similar capabilities, nuclear war became unlikely, because it would lead to global annihilation, and the weapons became a status symbol. While the victors of WWII seat the permanent seats on the UN Security Council, it is not a coincidence that all these powers came to acquire nuclear weapons technology. Some would argue that a declining France needed those weapons to remain on its prestigious post.

Why is North Korea acquiring these weapons? The prestige, the threat to its southern neighbor (similar to Israel’s undeclared, but widely publicized Nuclear capability), and the negotiating advantage.

It is a political victory, for now. Because the sanctions that it received are non-effective, and the government now looks stronger than ever on the domestic political scene. For a country that bases a lot of its raison d’etre on its opposition to America, this is a perfect distraction from any internal problems and instabilities.