Here we were on Monday thinking the Iranian deal with Turkey, whereby Iran would get to do an exchange by sending some 1200 kgs of LEU to Turkey in exchange for 120 kgs of MEU, would ease the stand-off between the West and Iran. It seemed that the deal would put an end to the pursuit of further sanctions on Iran by the US if, for no other reason, China and Russia, in light of the new deal Iran has with Turkey, would very likely not support further sanctions against Iran.
Then, the very next day, news comes in that, not only has the US decided to push ahead with a resolution to impose further sanctions, regardless of the deal between Iran and Turkey, but that Russia and China have tentatively agreed to support such a resolution.
One can be forgiven for asking ‘What’s going on?’ given that both Russia and China were previously reluctant to be behind any further sanction even without any deals having been made to swap uranium.
Max Fisher, writing online at The Atlantic magazine, attempts a reasonable analysis. Fisher argues, in essence, that both Russia and China are simply shifting toward a more pragmatic stance that reflects their own wider interests in regards to their respective relations with Europe and the West respectively.
This may be so, but one wonders if, had Iran and Turkey announced their deal even a day earlier, Russia and China would still have agreed publicly to support this new resolution.
The fact is the sanctions are not really all that tough. They are certainly not likely to deter Iran from working to achieve their goal of producing electrical power from nuclear energy. Li Baodong, China’s Ambassador to the UN, has said that they only support sanctions that are likely “to bring the Iranian side to the negotiating table”, adding that, "The sanctions are not for punishing innocent people and should not harm normal trade and business exchanges."
Because of the mild nature of the new proposed sanctions, there have been reports that the US and the EU may also be initiating certain unilateral sanctions outside of the UN sanctions tentatively agreed to. Already Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has expressed concern at these reports. Lavrov was quoted in Ria Novosti, the Russian online news magazine, as saying that the unilateral sanctions would include measures "of an extraterritorial nature, beyond the agreed decisions of the international community and contradicting the principle of the rule of the international law, enshrined in the UN Charter." The key word of concern here is ‘extraterritorial’.
The implications of this are very serious. They may even have a bearing on whether or not Russia actually signs up to the UN resolution when it comes to the vote next month. China too may think twice about their position if the US and their Western allies decide on unilateral sanctions that go beyond those already agreed to within the UN and which ‘contradict the principle of the rule of international law’.
It remains to be seen whether or not the two deals were ‘crossed in the post’, but it certainly seems that, one, the sanctions recommended were ‘soft’ enough for both Russia and China to sign up to; and, two, it also seems that, if that is the case and the US and their Western allies want to fool around with tougher unilateral sanctions, then Russia and China might just back off the UN negotiated sanctions. Given that it seems as if the Turkey-Iran deal is almost fait accompli, the end result will be at the very least embarrassing for the US and the West, and, at worst, bring on a dangerous situation in the Middle East where the US and Israel may feel compelled to take matters into their own hands.