Welcome to the Table, China

Whether President Obama’s first term is ultimately viewed as a success, I believe, will depend on two things:

  • How well has the economy rebounded — and what is the employment situation like? And …
  • Has Iran been thwarted — or quantifiably set back — in its effort to build a nuclear bomb?

Which is why it’s a very welcome development that China has finally agreed to join negotiations over a new package of sanctions against Iran.

As the NY Times reports, the Chinese import nearly 12 percent of their oil from Iran, and are reluctant to join a sanctions regime, because Iranian retaliation would cost them dearly.

The key appears to be that the Obama administration is actively working to ensure that, should China agree to sanctions, it will have access to other oil. Here’s the nut:

“Until two weeks ago, the Chinese would not discuss a sanctions resolution at all,” [an administration] official said. But the Obama administration, in hopes of winning over Beijing, has sought support from other oil producers to reassure China of its oil supply. Last year, it dispatched a senior White House adviser on Iran, Dennis B. Ross, to Saudi Arabia to seek a guarantee that it would help supply China’s needs, in the event of an Iranian cutoff.

“We’ll look for ways to make sure that if there are sanctions, they won’t be negatively affected,” said the senior official.

According to the Times, Obama wants serious sanctions in place against Iran by this spring.  As Iran well knows, any sanctions against it would by pyrrhic without Russia and China joining in. China’s decision to pull up a chair at the table does not of course mean it will ultimately stand with America behind a package of sanctions. But in what will continue to be a difficult diplomatic tango for Obama, today’s news is a welcome step.

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2 Responses to “Welcome to the Table, China”

  1. Barbara says:

    Definitely a welcome step, but another question about China which is being left out is the amount of oil they get from Sudan and their unwillingness to help in the Darfur situation. Unfortunately, you fix one problem and another raises its ugly head.

    Good to have you back.

  2. Neurotic Dem says:

    Great point. I read a news analysis today in the Times that talked about how Obama’s international pragmatism has meant that he has not drawn red lines about human rights issues. In China and elsewhere. He’s willing to talk, even with repressive regimes, if he thinks it could be for the greater good. I think it’s a matter of priorities. Stopping Iran from getting the bomb — or setting Iran back significantly — would have huge geopolitical ramifications for the Middle East and beyond, and could ultimately avert a genocide of a very different type.

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