Sunday, December 02, 2007

China: A Partner for Dealing with Iran?

In an opinion editorial for the Washington Post, Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, argues that China could be a formidable partner for the U.S. in negotiating with Iran. Utilizing China as a strategic partner would build from the shared experience in negotiating with North Korea over its nuclear program, a process that may be successful yet.

According to Brzezinski:

"Once it is more active in the negotiating process with Iran, China could help break the stalemate. It has a relatively cordial relationship with Tehran, whose rulers are not united but are increasingly isolated. Beijing and Tehran do not want their economic relationships disrupted; Iran supplies much-needed oil to China, and China supplies equally needed weapons and industrial products to Iran. But China's willingness to play a constructive role requires that the United States be guided by strategic patience. The Chinese fear that U.S. impatience to ratchet up sanctions may be somewhat motivated by the conviction that before long the sanctions will be proved ineffective and "other options on the table" might come into play."

Brzezinski also writes about Russia's uncertain role:

"Russia's uncertain role should be noted. Russia has been in talks with Iran and professes strongly that it desires a peaceful solution. These affirmations should not be dismissed out of hand. A conflict in the Persian Gulf might adversely affect Russia's interests, but its negative effects on Russia are inherently speculative. Any serious conflict will have international ripple effects, and Russian leaders have to assess that eventuality with prudence.

"Nonetheless, Russia is an increasingly revisionist state, more and more openly positioning itself to attempt at least a partial reversal of the geopolitical losses it suffered in the early 1990s. Cutting off direct U.S. access to Caspian and Central Asian oil is high on the Kremlin's list. Moreover, longer-term geopolitical threats are seen by Moscow's elite as involving potential Chinese encroachments on Russia's empty but mineral-rich eastern areas and American political encroachments on the populated western areas of Russia's recently lost imperial domain.

"In that context, the outbreak of a political conflict in the Persian Gulf may not be viewed by all Moscow strategists as a one-sided evil. The dramatic spike in oil prices would harm China and America while unleashing a further wave of anti-American hostility. In that context, Europe might distance itself from America while both Europe and China would become more dependent on Russia's energy supplies. Russia would clearly be the financial and geopolitical beneficiary."

Brezinski concludes: "The stakes of a serious crisis in the Persian Gulf are thus far-reaching. They could cause a more dramatic shift in the global distribution of power than even the one that occurred after the Cold War ended. Given this, a comprehensive, strategic dialogue between the United States and China regarding the relevance of their shared experience dealing with North Korea to the potential crisis with Iran could be timely and historically expedient."

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