This is a guest note by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett. Flynt directs the New America Foundation/Iran Project and is a former Senior Director of Middle East Affairs at the National Security Council. Hillary is chairman of Stratega, a political risk consultancy. They are co-publishers of the forthcoming blog, The Race for Iran.
As anticipated in our post on this blog on October 13 (and a monograph published by Johns Hopkins’ Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies earlier this week), China authoritatively signaled today that it will not support the imposition of anything approaching “crippling” international sanctions against Iran over its nuclear activities.
Nor will Chinese leaders support measures that would negatively impact what Beijing sees as its most important economic and strategic interests at stake in China’s developing relationship with the Islamic Republic.
Indeed, after meeting with Iran’s Vice President, Mohammad Reza Rahimi, in Beijing, China’s Premier Wen Jiabao noted that Sino-Iranian “cooperation in trade and energy has widened and deepened”, and stated that the Chinese government “will maintain high-level exchanges with Iran, enhance mutual understanding and trust, promote bilateral pragmatic cooperation and coordinate closely in international affairs”.
Wen’s statement comes a day after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – who has done more than anyone else in the Obama Administration to promulgate the threat of “crippling” sanctions if Tehran does not surrender on the nuclear issue – was disabused of whatever illusions she was clinging to about Moscow’s willingness to support a strategically meaningful intensification of international pressure on the Islamic Republic.
Furthermore, it comes a day after Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Kurt Campell, also in Beijing, offered more hot air about “the need to see more cooperation and coordination between the United States and China” regarding Iran.
We supported Barack Obama in his campaign for the White House in 2008 – but we have to say that, at this point, it is hard to identify any significant improvement in America’s Iran policy under President Obama compared to the strategically dysfunctional approach pursued by the George W. Bush Administration.
The Obama Administration’s continuing advocacy of a “dual track” approach to Iran is particularly misleading. There is not a serious sanctions “option” for resolving the nuclear issue or other strategic differences with Iran. The Administration’s constant cheer leading for sanctions does nothing for U.S. interests – but will undercut the credibility of whatever diplomatic overtures Secretary Clinton and her colleagues make toward Tehran.
The “dual track” approach only makes sense as a lowest-common-denominator consensus position among different camps of Obama’s foreign policy and political advisers. Looking for that kind of consensus may have been an effective way to run the Harvard Law Review. It is not a way to define coherent and effective foreign policy.
Significantly, the meeting between Wen and Rahimi took place on the margins of a summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – a regional security forum comprised of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, in which Iran, India, and Pakistan have observer status.
Among other things, summit participants will be launching discussions about expanding use of member states’ currencies for intra-SCO trade (including oil and gas), thereby reducing the dollar’s use as a transactional currency.
It is popular in U.S. foreign policy circles to dismiss the SCO as a “talk shop”. But we think the SCO is interesting as a harbinger of future strategic trends – trends that, left unchecked, could profoundly accelerate the decline of America’s strategic position. Checking those trends requires that the United States pursue a fundamentally different sort of relationship with Iran.
But that won’t happen until the Obama Administration faces reality about what its options really are.
Hillary and I will be launching our own blog, The Race for Iran, next week. We hope you will take a look.
— Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett