Speculating Iran

June 16, 2010

In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict

Iran sanctions cripple the UN
The vote to increase sanctions on Iran might not produce the intended results [AFP]

After six months of intense US and Israeli lobbying, the UN Security Council has voted for a new round of sanctions against Iran.

But most commentators agree that Resolution 1929 is so watered down – as a result of Chinese and Russian efforts – that it will have little or no impact on Iran’s nuclear energy programme or Iranian trade and economic development.

Iran has lived with similar sanctions for more than three decades and with none of the country’s key economic sectors targeted by the new sanctions – and many provisions in the new resolution voluntary rather than mandatory – there is no reason to believe that Iran will face any serious hardship now.

The timing of this latest round of sanctions – coming a few days before the first anniversary of Iran’s controversial presidential elections and a few weeks after what was hailed by many as a landmark nuclear fuel swap deal between Turkey, Brazil and Iran – raises many questions.

Key among these is why did the Americans reject Iran’s fuel swap offer and how could such toothless sanctions be considered a step in the right direction?

Undermined and delegitimised

The only feasible rationale for imposing further sanctions in the face of Iran’s obvious willingness to negotiate must be found not in any wish to reduce the threat posed by nuclear weapons, but instead in the geopolitical interests of a few power-hungry countries – and their allies and client states – who possess an undemocratic veto power in the UN.

The UN, it appears, does not desire a nuclear-free Middle East.

After the Iraq and Afghanistan debacles, such actions by the UN Security Council only serve to further delegitimise the UN and to undermine its charter.

While the first round of sanctions against Iran were unanimously adopted, this latest round – the fourth in as many years – was called “a mistake” by Turkey and Brazil, who voted against the motion, while Lebanon abstained – pointing to the clear lack of consensus within the council.

Glaring contradictions

The senseless nature of the situation was immediately obvious as statements emerged from various quarters.

Ahmadinejad is the most willing partner for rapprochement with the US [GALLO/GETTY]

On the one hand there were the Chinese who argued for negotiations as the best way forward both before and after voting in favour of further sanctions.

This stance may have been intended as a clever public relations exercise, but its inherent contradiction is glaring.

China has gained a far greater share of Iran’s trade and investment opportunities over the past decade and has managed to further boost her opportunities by taking the West for a “voluntary sanctions” ride that is destined to further isolate the latter from Iran’s market.

There are several emerging markets and technological alternatives in the new post-financial crisis world economic order.

While Iran certainly does not need greater economic cooperation with the West, the latter’s insistence on limiting their own trade opportunities with one of the world’s largest economies – and one that owns vast amounts of natural gas and oil – is quite baffling.

It does, however, make good sense to Chinese strategists.

Shrewd geopolitical game

Russia too has played its geopolitical game shrewdly. Iran’s huge gas reserves threaten Russia’s dominance in supplying Europe and others. Further “voluntary sanctions” by the latter help to maintain Russia’s improving position.

Furthermore, closer collaboration between Iran and the US would reduce the Americans’ losses in Iraq and Afghanistan, and reduce Russia’s influence. Russia would much rather keep Iran and the US at each other’s throats.

It is for this reason that Russia can vote for sanctions ostensibly designed to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities, while at the same time planning to open a new nuclear power station in Iran in August.

Russia is also talking about helping to build new nuclear sites in Iran, and even reserves the right to supply Iran with the kind of weapons that would effectively defend Iran’s nuclear installations against any foreign attack.

All of these “exemptions” were included in a UN resolution allegedly aimed at reducing Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

So a geopolitical game looks set to continue with comical consequences.

‘Nuclear apartheid’

With nothing offered in return for its willingness to negotiate, Iran has no incentive to return to nuclear talks.

With limited options left for talks with Iran, the US will continue to limp along in the Middle East, stuck in quagmires and spending beyond its means while anti-American sentiments are further boosted in the region.

At the same time, the Europeans decline in economic terms and global influence, while the Chinese and Russians continue to rise.

Add to this a shameless display of what may be described as “nuclear apartheid” by the nuclear-armed culprits at the direct expense of the non-proliferation agenda.

After decades of aimless talks, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recently managed to put Israel’s known illegal nuclear weapons on the agenda.

But what hope can the world really have for a serious debate when it is only Iran – which has no nuclear weapons and which has endured more than 4,000 invasive IAEA inspections to date – that faces sanctions?

Ahmadinejad: A willing partner

It is hard to fathom what real long-term benefits the US is hoping to gain from its obstructionism and exceptionalism when it comes to the nuclear debate.

Perhaps the US administration imagined that by pressing for more sanctions just before the June 12 anniversary, it may undermine the Iranian regime.

But the Iranian opposition’s position on the nuclear issue is no less determined. And no Iranian group can hope to gain power by challenging the Iranian government on the basis of foreign dictates. To imagine otherwise is to misunderstand Iranians.

In fact, and despite the rhetoric, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, has turned out to be the most willing partner for rapprochement with the US in a long time.

He has made several gestures, starting with a congratulatory letter to Barack Obama, the US president, upon his election, and a daring proposal for a nuclear fuel swap deal that was largely in line with a proposal made by the UN six months earlier.

But Obama has responded with New Year messages to the Iranian people and sanctions against their economy.

On no known occasion has the current – or previous – US administration made any direct approach to the Iranian leaders for talks. Quite the opposite: Whether it is the nuclear issue or Middle East affairs, Iran has been pointedly excluded from the list of invitees.

Irrelevant and biased

So, with the negotiations door firmly shut by the West, Iran has little option but to turn its back on the UN’s nuclear apartheid policies, and to continue to build its economy and strategic relations with the countries of the South, while those of the North continue to isolate themselves.

To the great majority of the people of Iran and the wider world, the UN Security Council is growing increasingly irrelevant and biased.

The US’ games have in effect crippled the UN.

Perhaps this is one of those hidden aims too, not just to elevate the US position versus the UN, but also to ensure that US allies never face the consequences of their excesses, including those on the nuclear issue.

Massoud Parsi is a development economist and commentator on Iranian affairs.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.