Iran's defiant pursuit of a nuclear programme has tested the patience of Moscow and Beijing and increased the chances that they will support sanctions against Tehran.
By Philippe Rater, in Paris for AFP
Published: 1:06PM GMT 04 Dec 2009
After President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's latest provocation - a vow to build 10 more uranium reprocessing plants - diplomats in Western capitals now dare to hope that the US Security Council will unite behind a plan of action.
But experts in Moscow and Beijing give warning that their governments remain unwilling to support the kind of severe financial embargoes and targeted trade restrictions favoured in Washington, Paris, London and Berlin.
"In 2009 the Iranians weren't able to find positions that might divide the Group of Six," said one analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity and referring to Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.
According to the Paris-based official, this contact group of world powers set up to negotiate with Tehran is "all agreed that Iran should not get a nuclear weapon" while some "are actively drawing up new sanctions".
Iran's regime, which is under pressure at home from a newly vocal domestic opposition movement, has refused a UN-mediated offer to send its uranium stockpile to Russia and France to be refined for use in a medical reactor.
This refusal - which increased international fears that Tehran's true intent is to create weapons grade fuel - led last week to members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a UN watchdog, voting to censure Iran.
Russia, usually an ally of Iran, co-sponsored the censure motion and China, traditionally a staunch defender of national sovereignty over international oversight, voted to support it.
"Russia supports the idea of sanctions against Iran," said Fyodor Lukianov, the editor of the Russian foreign policy journal Russia in Global Affairs.
"The real question will be 'what kind of sanctions'? There will be deep disagreement, and Russia will not support very tough sanctions like those sought by the United States," he warned.
In the West, Russia's vote was nevertheless seen as a breakthrough that could clear the path for tougher United Nations economic sanctions against Iran in the New Year.
"The real break with Russia came in September when Washington, Paris and London revealed Iran was building a secret new enrichment plant," said one Western diplomat, pointing to new tensions between Tehran and Moscow.
Moscow has since sought to slow the coming into service of a Russian-built Iranian nuclear reactor in Bushehr and has delayed the delivery of the latest S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to the Iranian military.
China, which relies on Iran for oil imports, has made no public change of position, and experts gave warning that while it might appear to support a tougher sanctions regime it would work behind the scenes to weaken it.
"China has joined to put pressure on Tehran. In Western eyes this is progress, but this is not sanctions," said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at the people's university of Beijing.
"China's position on sanctions on Iran is generally to dilute sanctions. I have not seen any indication that China is willing to put severe sanctions on Tehran. China still has huge energy cooperation with Iran."
"So there is some change, but if you want to see fundamental change, you will have to wait and see. I doubt that it will happen," he said.
In effect, Russia and China have supported each of the last five motions brought against Iran in the United Nations Security Council, including three that included sanctions.
On each occasion, however, their diplomats had prepared the ground for the vote by watering down the measures taken against Tehran.
Link : Russia and China closer to approving sanctions on Iran - Telegraph