Iran Sanctions Watch: Can't Read Clinton's Poker Face

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall of Hillary Clinton's office over the past 24 hours. Or rather, a bug on her phone.

This morning, Clinton announced that the Obama administration had finally struck a deal with the major powers on the U.N. Security Council—Britain, France, Russia, and China—to impose a new round of U.N. sanctions on Iran. Flanked by military brass, she told a Senate committee that today she would be sending a draft resolution to the Security Council for consultations, also set to take place today.

The announcement comes after months of negotiations, which have served as the focal point for harsh critiques by doubters of Obama's "engagement" strategy. It also comes a mere day after Iran reached its own surprise deal with Turkey and Brazil to send half of its nuclear fuel to Turkey. That bid was a clear attempt to force a wedge between the pro-sanctions crowd; even though it closely resembles a plan Western powers proposed last year, several important distinctions ensure that it would never get American and European backing. But Turkey and Brazil are both Security Council members, though not members of the veto-wielding power club. Bolstered by their developing-country bona fides, their deal could be an attractive cover for any fence-sitters, like, say, Russia and China, who have been looking for an out from the U.S.-led sanctions route.

Judging by Clinton's words, that's not the way it's turning out. As she testified to the Senate this morning, the draft sanctions resolution is "as convincing an answer to the efforts undertaken in Tehran over the last few days as any we could provide." Her allies, she said, were still 100 percent behind her.

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But why the fence-sitters, especially China, would choose that path remains a mystery. Beijing welcomed news that the Turks and Brazilians had reached an agreement with Iran. As of yesterday evening, the conventional wisdom had seemed to coalesce around the idea that they would bail on Washington the moment an alternative presented itself. Engagement, it seemed, had been a flop:

"Of course they are not thrilled," Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former Pentagon official, said of the administration. "They thought [the Brazilian-Turkish diplomatic effort with Tehran] was going to fail and didn't stop it, or couldn't stop it. It looks like it undercut their diplomacy.

"Now, in their heart of hearts, did they want it to be undercut? Maybe some of them, who thought the sanctions aren't going to work," he said.

Hours later, the tables have turned once again. Maybe. Could Clinton be playing a mad game of poker, announcing an agreement in order to pressure her allies to stay on board with a resolution? As of now, we're relying on information from Clinton and an anonymous "Security Council" source that China and Russia have agreed to support the resolution, but we're still waiting to hear a reaction from the Chinese and the Russians themselves. It's possible their vote-counters could come up with a somewhat different number.

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Iran Sanctions Watch: Can't Read Clinton's Poker Face | World