First story I ran across this morning in my daily google search regarding the “Iran Crisis” was this one from Reuters:

BEIJING (Reuters) – China said on Tuesday the Iranian nuclear standoff could still be defused through negotiations without a showdown in the United Nations, and urged countries to intensify efforts for a diplomatic compromise.

China voted for an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolution on Iran because it believed that decision would encourage further talks, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan told reporters in Beijing.

“There are severe difficulties and complex circumstances, but nonetheless we still believe there’s still space to appropriately resolve the Iran nuclear issue through negotiations,” he said.

“The international community shouldn’t abandon such diplomatic efforts,” he added, urging “restraint and patience”.

This call by China for more talks before referring the matter to the UN Security Council echoes these statements yesterday by the Russian Foreign Minister in response to Rumsfeld’s remark that (wait for it) “All options, including the military one, are on the table”:

Russia’s foreign minister warned against threatening Iran over its nuclear program Monday after Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld reportedly agreed with a German interviewer that all options, including military response, remained on the table.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called for talks to continue with Tehran, which was reported to the U.N. Security Council on Saturday by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

My thoughts on what this might mean below the fold.
China has a clear motivation for preventing a military showdown: it’s interest in Iranian oil and gas:

[Note: This story is dated October 30, 2004]

China’s oil giant Sinopec Group has signed a $70 billion worth oil and natural gas deal with Iran; China’s biggest energy deal with the No. 2 OPEC producer. […]

In his two-day visit to Beijing, Iran’s oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said that Iran is China’s biggest oil supplier and wants to be its long-term business partner.

China has imported 226 million tons of oil in 2003, about 13 percent of which coming from Iran, according to official figures.

In other words, China has the best motivation for seeking to prevent war between the US and Iran: its economic and (I would add) national security interests in keeping Iranian oil and gas flowing to China’s rapidly growing industries. As noted by many, any attack on Iran would likely result in a reduction in oil supplies from the Gulf region, especially if Iran follows through on its threat to close shut down the Straits of Hormuz. The resulting surge in oil prices on the open market, and the reduction in physical supplies of oil and gas from one of its primary suppliers would have a heavy impact on China.

Although China voted in favor of of a resolution which would permit IAEA President El Baradei to refer the agency’s report on the Iranian nuclear matter to the Security Council, I don’t think this signals any fundamental change in China’s position. China still holds a veto in the Security Council, and I cannot foresee any instance in which they would vote to authorize military action against Iran. Indeed, its likely that China will veto any sanctions against Iran that may be proposed by the US or the Europeans.

Russsia is also likely to veto any vote for the “military option” in the UN. In part, this is predicated on its desire to sell Iran weapons and nuclear technology. In part, it is a continuation of past policies under the Soviets in which Russia still seeks to limit US and European influence in the Middle East.

Russia still desires to play a leading role on the world stage. Good relations with Iran are important to the Russians not just from an economic standpoint, but also from a geopolitical one. Russia may be concerned about the resurgence of Muslim extremism on and around its borders, and in Chechnya, but it is just as concerned about US actions in the Middle East, particularly Bush’s tendency to pursue military solutions to any issues that arise there.

Russia, as indicated by its attempt to negotiate directly with Iran regarding the processing of Iran’s uranium, would like to play the role of “peace broker” if it can. As a “neutral” party, Russia is unlikely to take any step that would permit Iran to view it as having cast its lot with the US and Europe. It may make noises about possibly supporting sanctions, but in the end I believe it would veto any Security Council resolution that sought to impose any measures against Iran with real teeth in them.

I believe Russia will, instead, do its best to cajole both the US and Iran into accepting a diplomatic solution outside of sanctions, using all its leverage with the US (the Security Council veto and continued cooperation with Bush’s war on terror programs). Unfortunately, neither of the two main parties to this dispute seem inclined to pursue a diplomatic path at the moment.

Rumsfeld in an interview in a German publication on Monday:

“All options, including the military one, are on the table,” Rumsfeld said in an interview with Monday’s edition of German financial newspaper Handelsblatt.

“Today, biological, chemical and radiological weapons are available which could kill tens of thousands of people,” Rumsfeld said, in comments in German.

“There is a genuine possibility that these weapons could fall into the hands of people who behead innocent people and blow up children.

“The people of the free world must realize that they have been warned.”

Rumsfeld said Iran must be prevented from developing a nuclear weapon.

“We know that terrorists are desperately seeking ever more deadly weapons.

“Iran is the main sponsor of terrorist organisations such as Hezbollah and Hamas,” he told Handelsblatt.

A spokeman for Iran’s President on Monday:

Iran said Monday there is no room for negotiation with the United States over its nuclear program after it was reported by the UN’s nuclear watchdog to the UN Security Council.

“Our policy is the same toward the United States that it has so far been. There is no debate about relations and negotiation with the US There has been no change in our policy,” said Gholamhossein Elham, spokesman of Iran’s government, when he was asked if the country was ready to negotiate with Washington.

Elham said the West made “a big mistake” by making the referral, because he contended the action indicated the West’s opposition to Iran’s development.

Iran said Sunday that it had ended all voluntary cooperation with the UN nuclear watchdog agency, saying it would start uranium enrichment and bar surprise inspections of its facilities.

Sadly, the Bush adminsitration and Iran’s hardliners both seem to be enabling each other in their mutual and dangerous dance toward war.

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