Nuclear Diplomacy

Will China’s President Hu come to Washington with a surprise?

On March 30, Beijing agreed to join a Washington-led effort to draft new sanctions on Iran (Guardian, 3/31/10) to punish it for continuing its legally-allowed program of uranium refinement. The next day, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator visited China. He has now departed with no sign of any change in Beijing’s delicate lean toward Washington’s side. If he indeed failed to elicit any change in Beijing’s stance, this may represent an ultimately significant failure for Tehran, Ahmadinejad’s brave (and somewhat accurate) words about how sanctions only encourage self-reliance notwithstanding.

Xinhua’s 4/2/10 characterization of the talks between Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo and Saeed Jalili as “frank” underscored the impression that Tehran is failing to make progress in keeping Beijing’s support on the nuclear issue.
China’s announcement that President Hu Jintao will attend the nonproliferation conference scheduled in Washington later this month raises China’s profile on this sensitive issue and suggests that Beijing may have made a decision to take a more proactive position on global nuclear issues.
Tehran might do well to consider Ben Simpfendorfer’s analysis of China’s Mideast economic calculus (Foreign Policy’s Middle East Channel, 4/2/10):
China‘s web of commercial interests in the rest of the Middle East is a restraint on its support for Iran. In short, a nuclear Iran and regional arms race would be bad for business. And Chinese academics have signalled that Iran‘s unpredictable behaviour is challenging China‘s relations with its other regional partners, especially Israel and Saudi Arabia. While China may not agree to sanctions easily, its support for Iran is often overstated, and the idea of a non-nuclear Iran with still strained relations with the United States is not an unattractive outcome for China‘s leadership.
By not offering a concession in Beijing, Iran may have missed an opportunity.
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