PRAGUE, May 4, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The five permanent members of the UN Security Council are all in agreement on one issue regarding Iran -- none wants to see the country obtain nuclear weapons. The "Big Five" also agree that Iran must heed the UN's demand that it halt uranium enrichment.
But when two members of the council, Great Britain and France introduced a draft resolution on Iran on May 3, they did so with the support of the United States -- and over the objections of China and Russia. Throughout the nuclear crisis, Moscow and Beijing have been at odds with their Western counterparts on how to go about resolving the crisis.
Dispute Over Chapter 7, Trade
There are two key points of contention within the Security Council on the wording of the draft resolution introduced by Britain and France.
One is that the draft resolution's adherence to Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which would allow for the use of sanctions, including force, to constrain Iran to meet the UN's demands.
Russia and China believe that invoking Chapter 7 will serve to increase tensions with Iran and open the door for a possible military solution to the crisis.
The second sticking point relates to the draft resolution's call for Iran to halt construction of a nuclear reactor it is building. The document also demands that countries "exercise vigilance" in preventing the transfer of goods and services that could aid Iran's efforts to enrich uranium and develop its missile program.
Both Russia and China have arms deals with Iran, and Russian contractors are nearing completion of Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant and are preparing to bid on the construction of two more.
Doubting Iran's Intentions
Whereas the United States has made clear that it believes Iran is using its nuclear program to secretly develop nuclear weapons, Russia and China say there is no proof of this and do not oppose Iran's use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
Iranian President Ahmadinejad visiting a nuclear facility earlier this year (Fars)Without proof that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, Russia and China are likely to veto any measures placing too much stress on this issue, according to Alexander Neil, the head of the Asia program at Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies in London.
"Both countries would obviously exercise their right to veto, I think, in the case of increased UN pressure on Iran," Neil says. "As long as Iran is saying that it's nuclear intentions are peaceful, in terms of satisfying domestic energy requirements, then I don't think there is any bone of contention." Trade Concerns
Pure economic concerns are also a factor. Vladimir Yevseyev, a senior associate at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of World Economy and International Affairs Center for International Security, says Russian involvement in the Bushehr nuclear plant can be estimated at some $800 million. However, Yevseyev does not consider bilateral trade to be a major incentive for Russia to side with Iran in the dispute.
"Economic advantages that Russia can get from cooperation with Iran are rather small," he says. "Currently, annual mutual trade is only $2.2 billion. It makes up less than 1 percent of all Russian trade."
China's economic ties with Iran are closer. Joseph Chung, the chairman of the China Research Institute of the City University of Hong Kong, says that in addition to its interest in exporting armaments to Iran, China seeks to benefit from Iranian energy supplies. "One has to recognize that energy is an important factor," he notes. "China probably has invested up to 70 billion [U.S. dollars] in the oil fields and natural gas fields in Iran."
Geopolitics also play a role in the Security Council split. Neil of the Royal United Services Institute says Russia is seeking to expand its influence in the Middle East.
"I wouldn't say Russia would want to become the preeminent player in the Middle East, but it certainly wants to retain sway in areas where Western interests have become obsolete due to the political volatility in the area now," he says. "And I think Russia would certainly see itself as having increasing leverage within certain voices within the Islamic world."
Chung, meanwhile, says China's position toward Iran is more based on the country's policy of opposing what it considers U.S. unilateralism. "China is concerned with the broader issues of multipolarity in international relations and the denial of hegemony on the part of the United States," he notes. "In this connection it wants to serve as a supporter of the Third World interests in general and also of Arab interests in the Middle East is particular."
Only So Much Support
Analysts stress, however, that when all is said and done China and Russia are ready to support Iran only to a certain extent. Yevseyev of Russia's Academy of Sciences says that the current Russian support "does not mean that Russia will be on the Iranian side no matter what they do."
Furthermore, Yevseyev believes that "Russia would support Iran if Iran listens" to Russia's advice. "If Iran [continues to] do what it is doing now, paying no attention to the Russian position, Russia will move closer to the Western position," he concludes.
Yevseyev predicts that Moscow will not allow its relations with the West to deteriorate for the sake of Iran, but it will also oppose any military solution of the crisis.
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