Islamic Republic of Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addresses the news media in Istanbul, Turkey at a scientific international conference. The president said that sanctions had failed to stem the progress of the middle-eastern state., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
NOVEMBER 17, 2011
China, Russia Resist Sanctions Against Iran
By JAY SOLOMON
Wall Street Journal
VIENNA—A new U.S. and European-led push to censure Iran before the United Nations nuclear agency for alleged efforts to develop atomic weapons is facing resistance from Russia, China and a bloc of developing countries, which threaten to dilute any international punishment.
American and European officials on Wednesday said they believed they would reach an agreement with Beijing and Moscow on a resolution condemning Tehran's nuclear work, which will be presented to the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board of governors in Vienna on Thursday.
Iranian students surrounded a uranium-conversion plant in Isfahan Wednesday to protest any military strike.
But they said this statement won't refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council or lead to a fifth, more severe round of U.N.-backed sanctions against Tehran.
The fallout, diplomats fear, could allow Iran to emerge largely unscathed after the release of an IAEA report last week that detailed extensive evidence that Iran has been developing the technologies used in producing nuclear bombs.
"The diplomacy has been very difficult on this," said a Western official involved in the deliberations. "We've had to balance the desire for tough action with the need to keep China and Russia on board."
Iran has criticized the IAEA's report as being politically motivated and based on falsified information.
On Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said his government has sent a lengthy technical response to IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano and will soon circulate a further response to the agency's member states. "We have decided to draft and send an analytical letter with logical and rational responses to Amano's recent report," Iranian state television quoted Mr. Salehi as saying.
The Obama administration and its European allies had hoped to use the release of the IAEA report to drastically increase economic and financial pressure on Tehran.
The study, which drew from the IAEA's own reporting, information provided by Iran and ten other members of the IAEA, concludes that Iran has conducted experiments in recent years to develop key technologies used in producing atomic weapons.
Specifically, the report alleges that Iran has worked to create nuclear-tipped medium-range missiles, bomb-triggering systems and conducted tests simulating the implosion of the core of a nuclear bomb.
Separately, the Obama administration last month said it would seek to impose new sanctions on Tehran in retaliation for an alleged Iranian plot uncovered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington. Iran has denied the charge.
At the IAEA, Russia and China publicly have voiced skepticism about the new report and questioned the utility of more sanctions. Moscow wants to restart international talks that would allow Iran to answer IAEA questions in return for lifting some sanctions. The U.S. and European Union have reacted coolly to the Russian initiative.
U.S. and European officials involved in the deliberations at the IAEA said they have had to balance their desire for tough action against Iran with the need to maintain unity among the bloc working on the Iranian nuclear issue. That bloc comprises the five permanent members of the Security Council—the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China—plus Germany.
The IAEA's board has never passed a resolution against Tehran without the consent of Moscow and of Beijing. Cuba, Venezuela and South Africa are among the other countries resisting sanctions against Iran.
However, European diplomats argue that a failure to harshly condemn Tehran could heighten a debate in Israel over military action against Iran's nuclear infrastructure. Israeli media have published leaks in recent weeks from the debate inside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government on a military option.
U.S. and European officials have vowed to impose more unilateral sanctions against Iran, regardless of what happens at the IAEA this week. But Washington and Brussels are facing challenges in deciding which Iranian entities to target, say officials involved in the debate.
The Obama administration has publicly held out the possibility of sanctions against Iran's central bank, which is the primary conduit for Tehran's oil sales. But some U.S. officials are against the move because they fear it could prove self-defeating if it leads to a sharp increase in global energy prices.
Such tensions, in part, led oil prices to surpass $100 a barrel Wednesday for the first time since July.
"The central bank remains on the table for discussion," said a senior European official. "It's making the Iranians nervous."
U.N. and U.S. sanctions on Iran's banking system have complicated Iran's energy exports, though it remains the third-largest oil exporter inside the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
The IAEA board of governors' meeting will be followed next week by a highly anticipated gathering of the agency's members to discuss creation of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons. Arab states have pressed to hold the conference to pressure both Iran and Israel to bring more transparency to their nuclear programs.
Israel is believed to be the only Mideast country with nuclear weapons, though the Jewish state refuses to say whether it has them. Other Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia, have said they might need to pursue nuclear weapons if Iran develops them.
So far, Israel and most Arab countries have committed to attending next week's IAEA conference. Iran has not.
Write to Jay Solomon at email@example.com