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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.

By Jackson Diehl  | June 9, 2010; 11:34 AM ET
Categories:  Diehl  | Tags:  Jackson Diehl  
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This Obama administration is following many of the same policies of those who gave us the Iraq Weapons of Mass Destruction lie. The gasoline refinement: this commenter has been been saying all along that Iran would speed up making its own refinement, and that gasoline sanctions would just help legitimize the Iranian government to the large amount of Iranian protesters last year. Do you really expect the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) government to operate any differently? Turkey, and Brazil initiatives: Sec of State Clinton rejected it all along. We have military in two states bordering Iran.
It is the post cold war era, don't expect the United States to have the power it once did. Globalization is a factor . America is a broke country defending the whole world. There is a Buddhist saying that says "A person can only make as many enemies as one can afford"? A nuclear bomb issue: North Korea used straight out plutonium, nuclear scientists know about low grade medical uranium, yet many journalist know Americans know very little about complex geography and even less about nuclear science. I don't think the journalists are educating the public about it. So before pushing a bomb viewpoint, you might need to learn about the subject

Posted by: Post_submitter | June 9, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

I can't access the comments section to the WaPo editorial today that said this:

"The question is whether the pressure will be strong enough to cause the regime to rethink its pursuit of nuclear weapons -- in other words, whether the administration's victory will be more than diplomatic. On that score there is reason for doubt."

So I will post my comment here instead.

What can account for such an absurd understatement from presumably well informed WaPo editors? Can they be unaware that Iran's nuclear program is very popular with the Iranian public -- their progress a point a national pride? Can they doubt that Iranians have justified concerns that having their nuclear fuel cycle under foreign control leaves them vulnerable to foreign pressure and interference? Can they seriously think that more sanctions accomplish anything other than to make eventual war on Iran more likely?

No. The only plausible explanation is that they understand perfectly well that nothing other than construction of a pretext for war is going on here and they approve.

Posted by: Adam_Smith | June 10, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Everyone wants to see less nuclear proliferation; yet, it seems that we are going the other way. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the U.A.E. have all expressed a sudden desire for "civilian" nuclear power. One does not need to be a cynic to realize that this rush for nukes is due to the feeling that Iran is close to the bomb and the Sunni Arab countries are terrified of that prospect. The world needs to get serious if it wants to stop a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region in the world.

Posted by: jbb34 | June 10, 2010 8:55 PM | Report abuse

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