Thursday, November 26, 2009

Dennis Ross claims he got China to agree with US position on Iran

I still maintain we will not see new sanctions against Iran in 2010. I honestly don't think we'll see any new sanctions at all, but I guess it's possible there will be, on paper, an extension of the sanctions already present but extended in a way that nobody in Iran would be able to tell the difference from what is there now.

I don't even expect a minor increase in sanctions, but something as drastic as a ban on fuel import or export is far more preposterous. "Crippling sanctions", I think even those who believe some limited sanctions are plausible will admit, are just not in the cards. I really do not expect new sanctions at all. If I'm wrong, I'll admit it and then we'll see if Iran responds the way I predict Iran would respond, which would be a significant increase in the rate of production of LEU.

But until then, the claims that sanctions are imminent are getting more and more strident. The Washington Post reports that Dennis Ross went to China and may have scared the Chinese into supporting sanctions in an article by John Pomfret and Joby Warrick.
The Chinese were told that Israel regards Iran's nuclear program as an "existential issue and that countries that have an existential issue don't listen to other countries," according to a senior administration official. The implication was clear: Israel could bomb Iran, leading to a crisis in the Persian Gulf region and almost inevitably problems over the very oil China needs to fuel its economic juggernaut, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The Chinese were told that "this could shake the entire framework of the international nonproliferation regime," said the official who was familiar with the lengthy analysis Ross laid out.

Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt could start their own nuclear programs, the Chinese were told. "And once Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey go, what's left?" the official said. The implication again was clear: Japan, China's biggest competitor for influence in the region, could go nuclear as well, the official said.
My goodness, where to start? The Chinese are unlikely to have believed a single word of this.

Israel is not going to attack Iran without US permission. Nothing has changed since George W. Bush denied Olmert permission to attack Iran except that the US now has a President elected with a mandate to reduce aggressiveness in foreign policy.

If Israel was to attack Iran without US permission, it only has a small number of planes and missiles that it could deliver, would set Iran's nuclear program back to some degree, but the program would be reconstituted to build a weapon at a faster pace and the net would be Iran both with a weapon capability and an actual weapon sooner than if Israel had not attacked.

In the meantime, Israel's patron the United States would begin taking intolerable losses both in Iraq and Afghanistan while Israel would come under the most thorough missile attack of its history. Thorough enough that wealthy, comfortable Israelis would really have to wonder if it might not be smarter to move to London, Miami or Sydney.

Israel attacking Iran is the most effective way to end the Zionist project in the medium term. If it was not for the loss of innocent life involved, I would favor and advocate an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear program.

But that's not going to happen. Bombing Iran poses far more of an existential threat to Israel than not bombing Iran.

It is true that once Iran has solidified its nuclear capability, there will be pressure on Egypt and Turkey to match that capability. Iran will be willing to help them match Iran's nuclear capability. The spread of nuclear capability in its region is a strategic nightmare for Israel. We're still talking about a theoretical ability to create a weapon, none of these countries would in any plausible scenario actually build a weapon and violate the NPT that they've all signed.

It is an interesting point that Israel actually manufactured weapons but in an important sense Israel's weapons are also virtual. Israel didn't build its weapons to use them. Israel built its weapons so that their presence would impact the actions of its neighbors, most importantly deter them from trying to engage Israel in a conventional arms race where their larger populations could give them an advantage.

Iran's, and later Turkey's and Egypt's capability to build weapons, their virtual weapons, would neutralize Israel's also-virtual weapon. Even if, as would be the case in all plausible scenarios, none actually manufactures a weapon that would violate the NPT. That's fine with Iran, Turkey and Egypt because it leaves them where they are today relative to each other and removes their disadvantage relative to Israel.

Yes. Israel really does not like that idea. It's hyperbole to describe losing this virtual nuclear deterrent as an "existential threat" but it is something Israel would love to see the US expend a lot of resources to prevent. It is always interesting to see how generous Israel is when helping itself to US resources.

Then Ross went on to claim that once Egypt became nuclear capable, who would be next? Implying next would be Japan. Is this guy serious? Japan is already nuclear capable. Is this guy serious?
Japanese Liberal Party leader Ichiro Ozawas recent statement that Japan could easily produce thousands of nuclear warheads using plutonium recovered from the spent fuel of its commercial nuclear power reactors is technically accurate, the Nuclear Control Institute (NCI) confirmed today.

Ozawa stated in a lecture delivered Saturday that "if [China] gets too inflated, Japanese people will get hysterical. It would be so easy for us to produce nuclear warheads we have plutonium at nuclear power plants in Japan, enough to make several thousand such warheads. [I]f we get serious, we will never be beaten in terms of military power." His remarks were widely reported in the Japanese press.
Bringing Dennis Ross into the administration was one of the biggest foreign policy mistakes Barack Obama has made, second only to the, possibly related, direct or indirect funding of the Balochistan rebels who killed several Iranian Republican Guard commanders.


Lysander said...

Preposterous indeed. But let us assume for a moment that Israel does indeed intend to attack Iran and that such attack would harm Chinese interests.

What exactly can China do to stop all this from happening? How would Chinese support for sanctions change things? There is no combination of sanctions that would make Iran anywheres near as poor as North Korea and yet North Korea has produced a bomb.

Indeed, the Chinese very likely feel that it is precisely those sanctions that induced the North to nuke up. (Incidentally, if THAT didn't cause Japan to go fully nuclear, then why would Japan worry about Egypt or Turkey?)

The Chinese could potentially be pressured into going along with some sort of sanctions. But Ross couldn't have made a less persuasive argument for it if he had been an Iranian mole.

Off topic, but keep in mind that China now only has 100 or so ICBMs kept as a modest deterrent. It's not like China doesn't have the knowhow or finances to build an arsenal of 10,000. Which is precisely what they would do if Japan nuked up.

Arnold Evans said...

Lysander, what a great point that I had not realized. There is only one party Israel gets any benefit from bluffing and that is the Iranians.

If the Iranians don't believe Israel is going to attack, then convincing China that Israel will attack still has no impact on Chinese behavior.

My take has always been that the US can get the type of resolution it has gotten so far at any time. It can also get a stricter one, and it can also unilaterally make the resolutions in place much stricter, but it would have to accept Iran's retaliatory responses, and for the last couple of years new or stricter sanctions, in the US' own calculation under Obama and Bush, have not been worth it.

There is more pressure on Obama to press for sanctions now than there was when Iran was cooperating to some degree in October - but with a different deal, Iran can begin cooperating in February which would cause the pressure to dissipate the same way it did in October.

The only question is will a new deal on Iran's enrichment program and LEU stockpile be reached early or even mid next year. That's up to Obama but I lean towards yes and therefore no sanctions.