Diplomacy and Sanction: Iran, Russia and China

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Hossein Malaek
31 January 2012

With the changes occurred in the Middle East and North Africa, estimated by whatever criteria, strategic balance tilted against Israel and the U.S. The balance which has been so far assured U.S and Western interests in the expense of Arabs and Muslims since the fall of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War and the establishment of Israel in 1948 is on the verge of collapse. Russia, China and Iran each will gain considerable strategic benefits from this situation in the international scene.

Russia as a country with its historical tendencies towards hegemony and its humiliating defeat in the Cold War, will not lose this exceptional opportunity and will try to reinforce this process. The experience of Libya showed Russia that it cannot have a significant share, as envisaged by it, in the world governance, in case of allying with the West. The important point is that Russia does not suppose any room for influence in Middle East countries, except for Syria. Therefore, Russia despite its desire should defend Syria and use diplomacy to increase its share. Since Obama's coming to power, he adopted reset policy to ameliorate relations between the West and Russia but new planning in Russia for Putin's return to the executive scene, showed that Russia and the West interplay is still a zero sun game.

The other winner of these developments is China. contrary to Korea and Japan, China regards the U.S as its biggest rival in the Middle East and East Asia and benefits from the weakening of the U.S at least in the sphere of politics; even if it does not make any clear effort in this way. China needs an economically robust America for its economic growth, but in the political scene, a defeated U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan and an attacked U.S. in Islamic countries suffering from its inefficient and challenged policies in the Middle East is nothing other than a divine boon for China's atheist leaders. China has denied the West any pretext by adopting a peaceful development policy. China has always found a leeway for shunning away from the unilateral policies of the West by being cooperative in the Security Council when resolutions are tabled. Chinese analysts evaluate the current situation in the Middle East as follows:

1. People in this region went to ameliorate their economic situation.

2. Regional countries were dependent on the U.S. in terms of foreign policy and they will be able to act with more freedom on the international scene in the future and China supports this process.

3. The U.S. needs to redress its internal situation and the problem of unemployment is a vital issue for it.

4. If the U.S. doesn’t anything to make its internal situation better, its ability in global leadership will be weakened.

5. The U.S. tries to solve its economic problems by cooperation with Asian and Pacific countries.

From this analysis, we can conclude that China rejoice from the recent developments, on the one hand, and intensifies its efforts for demanding a greater share in global governance, on the other hand. In mid-term, China – U.S. interplay will be a win – win game.

Iran will be a winner at least in short – term due to the tilting of strategic balance against Israel. But, Iran should overcome the problems resulted from sanctions against its central bank and ban on its oil to gain a desirable political outcome. Sanctions against Iran's central bank by the U.S. and U.K. which followed, however with some reservations by the EU, have created a complicated situation for Iran. Irrespective of the nuclear issue, one of the goals pursued by these sanctions is to minimize Iran's influence on the Middle East developments. Iran could have essential effects on the Middle East developments from the outset of the advent of Islamic revolution due to its religious commonalities, revolutionary and anti – colonial stances and anti – Zionist policies. Naturally, Iran has defined its influence zone and tried to expand it. An Iran without any serious problems is able to plan for enforcing and pursuing its policies, but an Iran caught in problems, is only able to watch the situation. Iran – Israel interplay in the region is a zero – sum game.

The main question is that how the three winners, Iran, Russia and China, can cooperate with each other?

Is there a defined strategy ensuring their respective interests for their interplay with the losers that are the U.S. and Israel?

Will there be conceivable a significant outcome in adopting individual policies?

The answer is not easy. Each country can have serious doubts about the tendency and goals of others who are involved in this game.

Iran needs to loosen the sanctions to be able to resist. To do this, China holds the most important practical leverage. Also, Japan and India can lessen the impact of sanctions, but they lack China's political influence. It should be envisaged that China will not accept Iran's oil ban as desired by the U.S. and Europe, but it won't increase its oil purchase from Iran, as hoped by the officials in National Iranian oil company.

On the other hand, the U.S. sanctions cannot be unlimited and have been certainly intensified for a limited time, probably for six months to one year period, to obtain a specific achievement. The U.S. and the West cannot plan an oil embargo for an unlimited period due to the world's growing need to energy, critical situation in Iraq,  and lack of confidence in Saudi oil production. Depriving a country with 75 million population of its much needed revenue would result in its economic and political disruption, and finally its radicalization. The time limit of this project is, in fact, its most important feature.

At first, it seems that Russia has the strongest motivation for dealing with this issue in an organized way, of course, it should be able to mobilize a considerable bargaining power against the West on the behalf of the other sides, to reach "specific goals". Adopting a homogenous policy needs a multi – layered diplomacy.