What Iran gained from today's U.N. vote to sanction its regime
The Obama administration is claiming a diplomatic triumph today with the U.N. Security Council’s passage of new sanctions against Iran. But the Iranian government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also has some reason for satisfaction. The resolution passed in New York, it can argue, is late, weak and more likely to ease than increase Iran’s diplomatic isolation.
It’s not hard to imagine the briefing an Iranian government spinner might be delivering in Tehran today. Consider, he might say, what President Obama once promised: that a refusal by Iran to begin serious negotiations about curbing its nuclear program would lead to “crippling” sanctions, beginning in the fall of 2009. During his presidential campaign, Obama even suggested that the sanctions would target Iran’s gasoline imports -- which many experts have described as the Achilles heel of its economy.
The sanctions approved today don’t touch Iran’s gasoline or its domestic energy sector. They will allow China to continue developing three large oil fields as well as oil refineries that will eliminate Iran’s need for gasoline imports. They will permit Russia to switch on the Busheir nuclear plant this summer. The Obama administration failed to obtain direct sanctions against Iran’s central bank or its state shipping line. And its ban on weapons sales contains a giant loophole: Russia will have the leeway to deliver an advanced anti-aircraft missile system, the S-300, which would be Iran’s best defense against an air attack on its nuclear installations by the United States or Israel.
By the way, Ahmadinejad’s spinner might add: the sanctions came six months later than the United States wanted. During that time Iran’s centrifuges have enriched more than 2,000 pounds of uranium, increasing a stockpile sufficient for one atomic bomb to one that could provide two with further enrichment. And the further enrichment has begun: Tehran has recently begun raising the enrichment level of part of its uranium from 3.5 percent to 20 percent -- still short of the 90 percent needed for weapons, but closer.
What about the global diplomatic shaming inherent in being the subject of a U.N. Security Council resolution? Take a closer look, the Iranian briefer can argue. The three previous U.N. sanctions resolutions passed without a negative vote; two were adopted unanimously, the third with one abstention.This one drew one abstention, from Lebanon, and two negative votes from rising regional powers that until now have been reliable U.S. allies: Brazil and Turkey, a member of NATO.
The appearance of the Turkish and Brazilian presidents with Ahamdinejad in Tehran last month -- and their strong opposition to sanctions -- was arguably as large a diplomatic coup for Iran as today’s U.N. vote is for the United States. It showed that Iran’s international support is getting stronger even as it gets closer to producing a bomb. China and Russia are far from lost: Ahmadinejad will be visiting Shanghai on Friday to inaugurate Iran’s pavillion at the city’s world fair.
Ahmadinejad is getting stronger at home, as well. A few months ago he and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei were fighting with the opposition Green movement for control of the streets of Tehran and other major cities. Now, with the anniversary of the fraudulent election that touched off that rebellion approaching this Saturday, the streets are quiet. For now, at least, the Green movement has been quelled. Though some of the sanctions passed yesterday are aimed at the Revolutionary Guards, none will make it harder for the regime’s shock troops to maintain domestic control.
So the Obama administration can celebrate today, Ahmadinejad’s briefer will argue. In public we will respond angrily. In private, we have reason to celebrate -- because today our government is closer to producing a nuclear bomb and more secure both at home and abroad than it was a year ago.
| June 9, 2010; 11:34 AM ET
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