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WEDNESDAY UN Compromise on North Korea Means Nothing for Iran
by Matthew Rojansky
[author, consultant] 10/25/06

Last week, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to impose sanctions on North Korea in response to the Stalinist regime’s detonation of a nuclear weapon.  This has raised hopes in the diplomatic community that a unified front against Iran’s belligerent uranium enrichment policy might also be within reach.  But the Council’s long overdue response to Pyongyang’s nuclear blackmail was born of a bargain among veto-wielding permanent members,  in which Russia and China agreed to enforce sanctions in exchange for a US promise to forego military action.  The Council’s big players will never agree to that kind of deal on Iran, because their underlying interests there remain diametrically opposed.

Matthew Rojansky

The author was a Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University and a Public Relations Consultant for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem. [go to Rojansky index]

Washington’s willingness to take military action off the table in the Korean crisis was hardly a painful compromise.  No US administration has seriously considered military action against North Korea for over a decade, both because of the country’s substantial military capability, and because of its proximity to South Korea, which it threatens to pummel with short-range missiles and flood with millions of refugees to cripple the South’s economy.  Today, with US  forces stretched thin across the globe, and special operations units combating terrorists and insurgents at the opposite end of the continent, an armed showdown with the North would be even more unthinkable.  Nor is it seen as necessary to protect US interests and allies in the region:  Both South Korea and Japan support continued six-party negotiations with Pyongyang instead of confrontation, and both governments have vowed not to pursue their own nuclear deterrent in response to the North’s latest test.

 The US strategic posture toward Iran is dramatically different.  By sponsoring terrorist groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, and backing Shiite militias in Iraq, Iran poses a direct threat to US interests in the Middle East.  Iranian arms and  money have undoubtedly enabled Hezbollah to stage a quick recovery from its pyrrhic triumph over Israel last summer, which in turn strengthened the conviction of Al Qaeda and allied groups that the United States and its allies can be defeated militarily.  Meanwhile, Tehran has dispatched an estimated 10,000 operatives to Iraq, where they have been responsible for countless political assassinations, attacks on civilians and infrastructure, and support of sectarian violence that has left tens of thousands of Iraqis dead.  In the  words of US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, a US defeat in Iraq or the Middle East at large “is not an option.”

 Given these colossal stakes, the US has no choice but to take the hardest possible line against Iranian nuclear development, including the enrichment of uranium, an essential step in the bomb-making process.  Congress has already imposed extensive unilateral trade and travel sanctions on Iran, and back-channel negotiations between the two countries seem to mirror the stumbling pace of years of formal European-led talks.  Even while promising it would support a generous aid package in exchange for a negotiated end to Iranian enrichment, the US still uses its diplomatic and economic clout to persuade other governments to help isolate the Iranian regime.  
Although the US can hardly afford to engage Iran militarily today, soon it will be unable to afford not to.  Despite assurances to the contrary, it is clear that Israel will attack Iranian nuclear facilities in order to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of a regime fanatically dedicated to its destruction.  Likewise, the US itself may have to act to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear or radiological weapons it could pass to terrorist groups operating in the Middle East, Europe or even on American soil.  For a superpower battling fundamentalism in Iraq, at risk from Tehran’s terrorist allies at home, and backing a policy of “regime change,” there can be no deal that appears to take the military option off the table.

 For their part, China and Russia have said they will back “consequences” for Iranian intransigence, subject to a familiar proviso: any Security Council decision on Iran must prohibit military action by the US or its allies.  This diplomatic impasse will not be overcome by a compromise like last week’s on North  Korea.  For one thing, China and Russia are the beneficiaries of contracts with Iran’s energy and defense industries worth hundreds of billions of dollars over the coming decade.  The specter of US bombing or regime change by force could torpedo those investments, while giving Tehran an excuse to choke off oil and natural gas supplies on which China’s ravenous economic engine is increasingly dependant.  Also, while Moscow and Beijing both pay lip service to the threat of terrorism, citing their own struggles with Islamist separatist movements in Chechnya and Xinjiang, respectively, neither sees a compelling connection between Islamic separatists and Iran’s role in the US-led global war on terror.

 While it is far too early to tell whether sanctions against North Korea will compel Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear deterrent, it is already clear that predictions of a similar Security Council resolution on Iran are overly optimistic.  If the past three years of negotiations are any guide, the Iranians will continue to obstruct effective diplomacy until they have actually built and tested a nuclear weapon.  By then, there may be no force on Earth able to keep them from using it. CRO

copyright 2006 Matthew Rojansky






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