openSecurity

China casts doubt on escalation of sanctions against Iran

China calls for talks with Iran rather than sanctions. Obama to announce 34,000 troop increase. Israel lashes out at EU over Jerusalem. Philippine mayor charged over political massacre. Iran seizes five British sailors. All this and much more, in today’s briefing.
Dries Belet
1 December 2009

On Tuesday, China stressed the need for more diplomacy rather than sanctions to deal with Iran’s nuclear programme. Two days before, Iran had announced its intention to start on the construction of ten new enrichment facilities. Many foreign diplomats were outraged about this provocative statement, which placed Iran relations with the US and Europe under increasing strain.

A Chinese foreign ministry official said at a press conference that sanctions against Iran “are not the goal” of the UN. The UN’s nuclear agency passed a resolution on Friday demanding that Iran put an immediate stop to all enrichment activities. However, foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang emphasized the need for more diplomacy rather than sanctions, stating, "we should properly resolve this issue through dialogue. All parties should step up diplomatic efforts.”

Iran claims the threatening UN resolution forced its decision to begin construction of the ten new enrichment sites. The head of Iran’s nuclear programme, Ali Akbar Salehi, claimed the West persistently misunderstood Iran’s peaceful intentions. In addition, some Iranian politicians added to tensions by calling for a withdrawal from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

The openSecurity verdict: During the past year, Western countries have been intensively attempting to find a diplomatic breakthrough on Iran’s nuclear programme. US President Barack Obama embarked on a strategy of engagement, talking with Tehran directly in a bid to improve relations and find a solution to the nuclear crisis. Last month it seemed as if a negotiated agreement, to export Iran’s enriched uranium to France and Russia, was likely. Such a deal would have delayed the possibility of converting nuclear fuel into a weapon significantly. However, Iran has since reverted to its original hard-line position, upholding its supposed right to develop nuclear energy capacity independently.

As a result, escalating tensions have increasingly led Western governments to consider sanctions against Iran. Countries such as France, Germany and Russia all issued warnings and expressed dissatisfaction with Iran’s current stance. For the moment, a UN embargo on Iran exists with regard to nuclear technology transfers. Analysts now speculate about new economic sanctions, possibly against Iran’s oil and gas industries, which are the principal source of government revenues. However, if a possible decision on sanctions in the UN Security Council is to be reached, China has to be persuaded not to use its veto.

Relations between Beijing and Tehran are important for both. Because of the booming Chinese economy and its voracious energy consumption, China is eager for the friendship of states that can supply it with the necessary natural resources. Iran possesses some of the world’s largest oil and gas reserves, and is selling a large amount of these resources to China. Chinese energy companies are also making significant investments in the Iranian energy sector. On the other hand, China is exporting a whole array of manufactured consumption goods to Iran, such as computers, household appliances, and cars.

Although most analysts agree that a nuclear weapon in Iranian hands is not something China would like to see, it remains very reluctant of approving sanctions due to its key economic interests in Iran. In addition, Beijing’s continuing support for the principles of state sovereignty and non-interference, which are cornerstones of its foreign policy, provides it with another rationale for refusing sanctions. Future Chinese moves will be of vital importance but are hard to predict. Recently, the US has spurred China to take up more international responsibility, but China’s Communist Party prefers to focus on its strategy of domestic economic development and to lay low in international disputes likely to negatively impact upon its export economy like Iran’s nuclear programme.

Obama to announce 34,000 troop increase

Today, President Obama will inform the American public of his long-awaited plan for Afghanistan. According to US officials and diplomatic sources, an additional 34,000 soldiers will be deployed, bringing the total US contingent to over 100,000.

President Obama has also asked his European allies for more support. The other NATO member states are expected to provide an extra 5,000 reinforcements, meaning that the Afghan ‘surge’ will consist of about 40,000 troops total.

After taking three months to reach a definitive decision on Afghanistan, Obama will set out his strategy in a televised speech at the US military academy at West Point, New York. Although the troop increase represents a significant escalation of the war, White House officials stress that the commitment is not open-ended. Obama is expected to emphasize the limits of US military involvement, and focus on the stabilization of the country and on building Afghan civilian and military capabilities.

Israel lashes out at EU over Jerusalem

The Israeli foreign ministry said the European Union’s intention to support a division of Jerusalem would harm a future renewal of Middle-East peace talks.

Haaretz newspaper obtained a draft document authored by Sweden, the country currently holding the EU presidency, pushing for an official call for Jerusalem to be divided, in order to serve as the capital of both Israel and the future Palestinian state.

On Tuesday, Israel snapped at the Swedish proposal. “The move being led by Stockholm damages the European Union's ability to take part and be a significant element in the mediation efforts between Israel and the Palestinians," foreign ministry spokesman Yossi Levy claimed. He continued, claiming that "the European Union must now exert pressure on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. Steps like those being led by Sweden only contribute to the opposite effect.”

The Swedish Embassy in Tel Aviv stated it would not comment on any internal EU information or drafts. The embassy said that if a EU resolution is made, it will undoubtedly reflect the position of all 27 member states.

Philippine mayor charged for political massacre

Prosecutors in the Philippines have charged the heir of a powerful clan with murder, a week after the massacre of 57 people. More than half of the victims were journalists and their staff, who were accompanying a candidate for the upcoming elections. At least ten witnesses will testify they saw Andal Ampatuan Jr., the mayor of Data Unsay, leading a group of gunmen and police officers, who blocked his political rival’s convoy in the moments leading up to the massacre.

Last week, Ampatuan turned himself in, but denied any involvement in the mass killings. Ampatuan is the scion of a clan that has ruled the province of Maguindanao in the southern Philippines for years. His father and other family members are also suspected to be involved, but have not been charged.

Iran seizes five British sailors

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard confirmed the capture of the five British civilians in the Persian Gulf. The five were sailing a racing yacht from Bahrain to Dubai, and are thought to have strayed about 500 yards into Iranian waters, where they were detained last Wednesday.

Today, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaie, a close aid of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened that measures against the British sailors will be “hard and serious”, should Iran conclude they had “evil intentions."

British diplomats sought to play down the incident, in the hope of allaying intensifying international tensions with Iran. Possibly for this reason, the foreign and commonwealth office attempted to suppress the issue last week. Britain’s foreign minister, David Miliband, said he hoped for a quick resolution of the issue, and vowed to remain “in close touch” with the Iranian authorities, as well as the families of the sailors.

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