Iran Sanctions Watch: The Morning-After Effect

Yesterday we wondered how much confidence Hillary Clinton really had in her Russian and Chinese support when she announced that all five permanent members of the Security Council were prepared to back a sanctions resolution. Today, we shake off the celebratory adrenaline and reexamine.

To begin, we bring you a starter-kit video on the U.N. sanctions process, distilling all the foot-dragging and finger-pointing associated with the multiyear effort to curtail Iran's nukes program into an easy-to-understand, four-minute explainer. For any readers who haven't been following this moving target's every last zigzag (who's in, who's out, who's back in, who's cutting a deal on the side, who's rejecting it, who's back in again), this should bring you up to speed. There are many underlying interests here that explain why leaders keep hedging their bets.

Given that, we direct our attention back to the powerful fence sitters. Russia, as it turns out, is easy, since its foreign ministry put out a statement today confirming support for the draft resolution. Problem solved. As per usual, though, China is trickier.

As The Christian Science Monitor points out, there are valid explanations for why Beijing would ultimately come around to supporting the U.S. argument for tough sanctions. For one, the Chinese have by now realized that the U.S. is actually rather soft on Tibet and Taiwan, two rhetorical sore spots. The U.S. has also backed off on accusations that China manipulates its currency, sparing the Chinese from a unilateral set of U.S. sanctions. Finally, Obama lined up Saudi Arabia and other oil exporters to assuage Chinese fears about the impact of sanctions (Beijing gets about 12 percent of its oil from Iran), demonstrating sensitivity to their economic concerns.

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But the Chinese government isn't being clear enough about its stance to jump to the conclusion that it's fully on board. Even while confirming its support for the resolution, the Chinese ambassador pointed out that it did not mean "the door for diplomacy is closed." At the same time, Beijing's foreign ministry continued to voice support for the fuel swap deal brokered Monday by Brazil and Turkey, releasing this statement:

China always adheres to the "dual track" strategy. We value and welcome the deal signed by Brazil, Turkey and Iran on fuel supply to the Tehran Research Reactor. We hope this will promote the process of peaceful settlement of the Iranian nuclear issue through dialogue and negotiation.

China always believes that dialogue and negotiation is the best approach to solve the Iranian nuclear issue. We hope relevant actions of the Security Council could help safeguard the international non-proliferation regime, maintain peace and stability in the Middle East and press for a proper settlement of the Iranian nuclear issue.

Meanwhile, Xinhua is running stories today declaring that "the draft is not likely to be adopted by the [Security] Council without difficulty" and reporting that the Chinese foreign minister has been on the phone with his Brazilian and Turkish counterparts, praising their work.

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This is not to downplay the significance of a Chinese statement of support for a draft resolution. They're now on the record--very publicly--as supporting a distinct set of terms for U.N. sanctions if Iran once again backs off the diplomatic track (as it could, since it has yet to put the Brazil-Turkey deal in writing and send it off to the International Atomic Energy Agency). But given the caution of China's statements, this still sounds to me like a government keeping its options open.

Iran Sanctions Watch: The Morning-After Effect | World