To slow or stop Iran’s nuclear buildup, the United States and other world powers must turn their attention to Beijing. China, which is increasing its financial ties to Tehran, has watered down United Nations sanctions in the past and appears poised to take the same route in response to Iran’s latest provocative activities. The U.S. and others must find a way around this roadblock.
Last week, it was revealed that Iran is building a second facility to enrich uranium. The site, hidden in a mountain near the holy city of Qom, apparently had been known to western intelligence agencies for some time. Once Iran was aware that other countries knew about the Qom facility, it apparently decided to disclose its existence to U.N. nuclear monitors.
Another enrichment facility, in Natanz, has long been monitored, off and on, by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog arm. It is assumed that with IAEA monitors focused on Natanz, Iran planned to secretly move ahead with enrichment at the Qom facility.
Iranian leaders have long said the country is enriching uranium for peaceful purposes. But, its testing of a medium-range missile earlier this week and the secretive nature of the new facility belie this claim.
At the same time, it is likely that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, faced with continuing opposition to his rigged election victory, is seeking to play to his supporters’ nationalistic tendencies by flexing military muscle and standing up to western countries.
Still, there is growing condemnation. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the second facility violates U.N. resolutions requiring reporting of Iran’s atomic activities.
Strong condemnation also unexpectedly came from Russia, which in the past has opposed sanctions against Iran for other violations of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said his country would consider sanctions.
The United Nations Security Council is meeting today in Geneva. The six members, which have been seeking ways to ensure Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon, are the U.S., Russia, Britain, France, Germany and China.
In the past, China has weakened sanctions that the other five countries agreed to impose. It is expected to do so again.
China has invested heavily in Iran’s oil and gas projects to ensure a supply of fuel for its fast-growing economy. In exchange Iran buys heavy equipment and other goods from China.
China experts also believe that Beijing views Tehran as a hedge against American domination in the Middle East.
Against this backdrop, it will be difficult for the U.S. and the other four members of the group of six to convince Beijing to support the necessary punishment for Iran.
Of course, Israel also fits into the mix. A powerful bargaining chip may be the ability of the U.S. and other countries to convince Israel to withhold military action in favor of economic and diplomatic solutions. With missiles able to reach Israel and the apparent development of nuclear weapons, Is-rael is right to protect itself. Provoking Israel, however, is not in the best interest of Iran, nor the region.
The talks in Geneva will not resolve the Iranian nuclear issue, but they should set the stage for a strong, unified response to Tehran’s nuclear gambit.