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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hillary Clinton: America's "Iron Lady"

How did Hillary Clinton get Russia on board with United Nations sanctions against Iran? It almost boggles the imagination. But Secretary Clinton is an extremely hard worker that has earned the minicker "Iron Lady." Flanked by Secretary Gates (with whom she often appears nowadays), SecState Hillary announced that the major powers had agreed to the wording of a draft on sanctions. Russia, in particular, had been a sticking point. There are two reasons for this, 1) Russia and Iran have oil projects in the works and sanctions would be against their national interests and, 2) Russia has a large Muslim population that neighboring Iran, if it was feeling ornery could easily influence to unrest, but hasn't. As NYU Russia scholar Stephen Cohen put it:

If Washington wants Moscow’s cooperation toward Iran, it needs to understand Russia’s special problems. Iran has never caused Russia harm. It is not going to join NATO. It’s a large neighboring nation that is not part of America’s sphere of influence. Second, Russia has 20-25 million Islamic citizens of its own. Iran has done nothing to agitate them against Moscow’s secular authority. The Kremlin fought two wars in its Islamic republic of Chechnya. Iran did nothing to support the Chechens. So, Russia’s beholden to Iran in this regard, not to mention their important economic relationships. In other words, U.S. policymakers have to understand that Russia’s essential national interests in Iran, and elsewhere, may not be identical to Washington’s due to its different geopolitical realities.

Cohen continued:

Moscow is just as worried about Iran’s nuclear intentions as we are. Indeed, Russia—no less than us—doesn’t want Iran to develop a nuclear capability, if only because Iran is much closer to Russia and would not need an inter-continental missile to threaten its territory. Moscow therefore has compelling reasons for not wanting a nuclear-armed Iran but it needs the United States to understand its different geopolitical circumstances. In particular, as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeatedly stresses, Russia, unlike the United States, is located at the crossroads of civilizations that are in an increasingly antagonistic relationship. Great diplomats begin by understanding the other side’s problems.

Russia ultimately agreed. And that was really the big problem with UN sanctions on iran. Once Russia agreed, it was only a matter of time before China did as well. China has no interest in being the only great power thwarting the popular will; so long as Russia was a hold out, that position was attractive. But once Russia relented, China did not want to be on the wrong side of that Security Council equation, against all the Great Powers -- at least not just yet in its unprecedented rise. As a result, Brazil and Turkey were upstaged on world stage. From Reuters:

"Major powers, including China and Russia, have agreed on a new United Nations sanctions resolution against Iran over its nuclear program, the United States said on Tuesday.

"The announcement was a tacit rebuff to a deal brokered by Brazil and Turkey and made public on Monday in which Iran agreed to send some uranium abroad. U.S. officials regard that deal as a maneuver by Iran to delay more U.N. sanctions.

"'This announcement is as convincing an answer to the efforts undertaken in Tehran in the last few days as any that we could provide,' Clinton added, repeating that Washington has many questions about the fuel swap deal.

"The deal revived the idea of a nuclear fuel swap devised by the United Nations last year with the aim of keeping Tehran's nuclear activities in check.

"...Clinton, speaking to lawmakers in Washington, said: 'We have reached agreement on a strong draft with the cooperation of both Russia and China,' She did not give details of the draft, but said it would be circulated to the full Security Council later on Tuesday.

She said the agreement was reached among the five permanent Security Council members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- and Germany, which have been engaged in talks on ways to address any nuclear threat from Tehran.

The Security Council will hold a closed-door session on Tuesday afternoon to receive the draft, diplomats said.

Well done, Hillary. One wonders, however, what effect falling oil prices had on Ahmadinejad's face-saving agreement to deal with Turkey and Brazil? Yesterday, David Rothkopf, author of the seminal text of the National Security Council, trying to make sense of the Turkey-Brazil agreement wrote:

Whether the deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil with Iran ultimately actually defuses the stand-off between Tehran and the international community remains to be seen. And even if it does, it seems unlikely to actually stop Ahmadinejad & Co. from continuing surreptitious efforts to cultivate nuclear weapons capability -- especially given the Iranians' decision to simultaneously announce that they will continue their enrichment program in any event. Indeed, it, like the sanctions program the United States has been engineering, seems more likely to simply hit the "pause" rather than the "reset" button, thus buying the one commodity the Iranians want most: time.

That said the effort is significant on another level. It represents the return of Plan B both to Middle Eastern and global relations. During the Cold War, international actors typically had a binary choice. They could seek the favor and advocacy of the East or the West, the Soviets or the Americans. Then, almost twenty years ago that all ended. And for a while it appeared, the choice was America or an international community that couldn't get its act together terribly effectively.

But Turkey and Brazil working closely with Russia, India, and China, have effectively sent a message that Plan B has returned to the global equation.

Not so fast, Rothkof. Hillary's deft diplomacy dampens, if only for a moment, the Spenglerian vibe resonating, with increasing frequency, throughout the West.

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