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ICG Risk Blog - [ China and Russia achieve in Iran what the US and NATO had in Turkey, part II ]

China and Russia achieve in Iran what the US and NATO had in Turkey, part II


Part 1, the money. Now the power:

In a stroke, the October 2004 agreement between Sinopec and National Iranian Oil Company reduced Iran's isolation, raised its international stature, and gave it a major political ally in the Security Council.

Given that Iran's largest foreign agreement prior to the gigantic Sino-Persian gas agreement was a $25 billion gas affair with Turkey that has been plagued with problems, Iran expects, rightfully I think, that this deal will make states that "may still consider Iran untrustworthy or too radical to enter into big projects on a long term basis" to reconsider their position. It is expected that India will now begin to move forward with its stalled 1993 "Peace Pipeline" connecting India and Iran, traversing Pakistan in the bargain. It remains to be seen how soon Russia's Gazprom is allowed to sidestep US displeasure and increase its business in the subcontinent.

I would expect Iran to move towards entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) comprising China, Russia, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, but I think that Tehran can still extract more favors for this diplomatic plum even though:

China, Russia and Iran share deep misgivings about the perception of the United States as a "benevolent hegemon" and tend to see a "rogue superpower" instead. Even short of joining forces formally, the main outlines of such an axis can be discerned from their convergence of threat perception due to, among other things, Russia's disquiet over the post-September 11, 2001, US incursions in its traditional Caucasus-Central Asian "turf", and China's continuing unease over the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan; this is not to mention China's fixed gaze at a "new Silk Road" allowing it unfettered access to the Middle East and Eurasia, this as part and parcel of what is often billed as "the new great game" in Eurasia. Indeed, what China's recent deals with both Kazakhstan (pertaining to Caspian energy) and Iran (pertaining to Persian Gulf resources) [supports the view that] the new great game is not limited to the Central Asia-Caspian Sea basin, but rather has a broader, more integrated, purview increasingly enveloping even the Persian Gulf. Increasingly, the image of the Islamic Republic of Iran as a sort of frontline state in a post-Cold War global lineup against US hegemony is becoming prevalent among Chinese and Russian foreign-policy thinkers.

I cannot imagine why an observer would think that China would halt at the Stans when the greater political and economic suzerain is one that extends across the Persian Gulf. (And while the SCO launched as a joint Sino-Russian condominium, I feel that China is now securing the stronger position. And while the substantial military assets in the region are Russian and American, I think China can extend its reach by its unique commercial and diplomatic means without an immediate entry of arms.

I do not agree with the comment that the "The SCO initially was established to deal with border disputes and is now well on its way to focusing on (Islamist) terrorism, drug trafficking and regional insecurity." On the contrary, as far as Beijing is concerned, it was designed to produce a quiescent political belt on China western and northern flanks. I think that the parallels of China and Iran as two proud ancient states now seeking to restore what they perceive as the historic spheres of influence has much merit. In the case of Iran, I agree with the opinion that its nuclear weapons program is aimed not at Israel but at its Arab and Muslim neighbors:

Iran's history does not support the view that the weapons it is amassing are for fighting Israel. [Al-Rashid] concluded that Iran's presumed nuclear capability was aimed at targeting neighbouring countries, basing his assumption on the fact that there has never been a single clash between Israel and Iran. Iran does not share borders with Israel and has had no direct conflict with it. It supports forces that are against Israel although its weaponry cannot be sent to these parties. "Then who is at the receiving end of these [Iranian] sophisticated weapons? There is only one logical answer: [Arab] neighbouring countries."

To that end, China, one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, became a powerful Iranian ally in forestalling a breakdown with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over weapons grade uranium enrichment that would see the Europe support US calls to refer Iran to the Security Council for sanctions.

"There is no reason to send the issue to the Security Council," Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said at a press conference in Tehran with his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharazi. "It would only make the issue more complicated and difficult to work out," Li said. The Chinese foreign minister refused to speculate on whether China would use its veto in the Security Council in the event of Iran's case being sent there.

Russia will restore, perhaps strengthen is the better word, its relationship with Iran as it continues to recover dominance over the "near abroad" states lost upon the breakup of the USSR, and eject the US from the Stans. Iran will respond by pressuring Moscow to halt its foot-dragging over completion of the Bushehr reactor. The affected states realize this and are making security diversifications that spawn reinforcing commercial alliances across the Stans and the Persian Gulf. China again becomes counterweight.

Pressure on Iran could backfire
By Saloumeh Peyman
Asia Times
Nov 9, 2004

China rocks the geopolitical boat
Kaveh L Afrasiabi
Asia Times
Nov 6, 2004

So long US, hello China, India
By David Fullbrook
Asia Times
Nov 4, 2004

Gordon Housworth

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