Is China upping the pressure on Iran? |
Saudi Gazette - 12 June, 2012
While China’s support for the Assad regime in Syria remains largely passive, merely backing Russia’s active championing of Damascus, Beijing is in fact taking a subtle interventionist role in Iran. President Hu Jintao used a regional summit in the Chinese capital, attended by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to urge the Iranian president, in a private meeting, to be “more flexible and pragmatic” over the issue of Iran’s nuclear program.Private though the encounter may have been, on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, official Chinese media quickly broadcast details of Hu’s call. Beijing does not want to see a nuclear-armed Iran. Given that its ungrateful and unstable ally North Korea, has supplied the Iranians with equipment to enrich uranium, as part of the nuclear device-making process, Beijing is probably in a good position to know precisely what the Iranians are up to.China has rejected US sanctions against Tehran and is now the major buyer of Iranian crude. This, it may feel, has boosted its leverage. With the weakening oil price expected to produce a 39 percent drop in its oil revenues, Iran has become extremely reliant on Beijing’s purchases, to stave off a worsening of its existing economic crisis. Yet with their own economy slowing, the Chinese are no longer desperate for oil and could probably, if need be, reduce or even stop altogether liftings of Iranian crude. Such a move would be a body blow to Iran.Therefore, it might be expected that the country’s rulers will have listened carefully to Beijing’s advice. Yet it is clear that regime hardliners are still in the ascendency. After promising signals from the Iranians, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear watchdog, has had to report that “no progress” has been made in negotiations that would allow inspectors unfettered access to all the country’s nuclear sites, including that at Parchin, which is suspected to be at the heart of a nuclear weapons program.Yet even after this bleak finding, the Iranians continue to protest that their research is entirely peaceful and insist that they will do everything in their power to prove this. One might therefore think, given the circumstances, that the Iranian leaders were oddly powerless. Opening up their nuclear facilities, in the way that every other country in the world except Israel and North Korea have done, to prove there is no weapons program, ought to be the simplest thing to do.Next week the Iranians go to Moscow, for yet more talks with the six powers, China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK and USA. Will these talks once more prove a pointless diplomatic dance and ratchet up further the possibility of an Israeli or US preemptive strike against Tehran’s nuclear facilities? Or will some behind-the-scenes arm-twisting by Chinese envoys between now and then, have persuaded the Iranians to honor their international obligations under nuclear nonproliferation agreements? At which point, the international spotlight would be free to swing on to Israel.