How Will Russia and China Vote on Iran?
As Britain, France and Germany move toward referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council over its nuclear program, Russia and China are now key to the West's goal of pressuring the Islamic Republic to abandon its quest for the bomb.
Russia, as a financial backer of Iran's nuclear facilities, has closer commercial relations with Iran than any European country. China is one of the biggest customers for Iran's oil and natural gas. As members of the Security Council, both Russia and China can veto international economic sanctions that the United States is seeking.
The government of President Vladimir Putin is "hardening its tone" on Iran, says the Moscow News, but the independent daily cited Russian analysts who said the escalation in official rhetoric on Iran did not signal any major policy shift from Russia, which has argued against referring Tehran to the Security Council.
"It's the first time that such a level of preoccupation is expressed but in my view it's not a real public condemnation... It remains to be seen whether Russian policy will really change or if it's only in words," said Yevgeny Volk, director of the Heritage Foundation in Moscow.
Robert Parsons, analyst for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty emphasized that Russia's position is still not identical to the West's.
"Russia needs good relations with Iran: Moscow no longer shares a border with Iran but it still lies very close to its long southern flank. And then there's the matter of business: for all its reservations about Iran's nuclear ambitions, Russia has a $1 billion stake in the construction of Iran's first atomic reactor at Bushehr," he wrote.
China, in turn, is watching Russia, according to a BBC analysis.
On the one hand, Beijing "has a deeply-engrained reluctance to takes sides with the US against a fellow non-Western nation," wrote the BBC's Jill McGivering. On the other hand, "Beijing is also keen not to cause fresh tensions in its relationship with Washington."
Meanwhile, the Arab media has rallied to the defense of Iran. Earlier this week, I highlighted criticism of Iran's nuclear program in two leading English-language Arab news sites, Al Sharq Alawsat and Dar Al Hayat. Yesterday, a BBC press review reports an opposing trend: Arabic dailies in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan are taking Iran's side and saying Western diplomacy to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons has no credibility because of Israel's nuclear weapons. Unlike Iran, Israel is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
"No to double standards," said Egypt's Jumhuriyah. "Israel relies on its nuclear arsenal to carry out an expansionist aggressive policy and to reject any just settlement to the Palestinian issue. As a consequence, the international community's failure to address this aggressive nuclear arsenal removes the credibility of any international move to prevent others from attempting to follow in Israel's footsteps."
The Arab world's problem is that in terms of nuclear diplomacy its member nations are almost irrelevant. There are only four Arab votes in the 35-member governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency and no permanent members on the Security Council (Qatar began a two-year term on the council this month).
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