Let’s look at China’s role in the Iran nuclear deal

The outcome of the Iran nuclear talks shows the value of engaging other powerful nations in a group effort to resolve difficult problems. Multilateral diplomacy is messy, unwieldy, and prone to political posturing, and a substantial number of Americans, including candidates for the Republican presidential nomination awash in the notion of American global hegemony, believe American engagement in multi-lateral diplomacy is a sign of weakness. However, for those who recognize the complexity of a world with seven billion people represented by political leaders with a multitude of political agendas group action is essential.

The proposed deal with Iran is a good example. Economic sanctions provided the leverage for the deal, and many partisan politicians in our country assert the U.S. alone can impose effective sanctions on Iran. They ignore the fact Iran operates in a global economy in which it should be noted, China is the world’s second largest economy, and possesses the means to significantly affect the Iranian economy. 

{mosads}In order to establish an effective sanctions regime, the U.S. had to secure the participation of the U.N. and the E.U. The sanctions would have been far less effective without these other parties. And, we should remember, any continuation of American sanctions, resulting from U.S. Congressional action in opposition to the agreement, will be far less effective without the committed participation of other countries.  Acting alone is not a very effective option for the U.S.

The concerted effort of many countries brought Iran to the table. Once Iran was at the table, the resulting agreement could not have been achieved without the participation of China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and Germany.  The five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany found a way to remain united and to use their different interests and differing histories with Iran to move the negotiations forward at critical moments.

China’s role in helping to resolve the issue of the Arak reactor is a case in point.

China’s unique status with Iran among the negotiators – the two have no history of conflicts or animosities– gave it the opportunity to play an honest-broker role. 

The talks appeared on the verge of a breakdown over the future of the Arak heavy-water reactor, a facility now under construction that has the potential to produce plutonium needed to build atomic weapons.

To resolve this deadlock, China put forward a redesign plan to modify the reactor so as to disable its potential for making weapons-grade nuclear materials. This idea provided a way out of the impasse and greatly eased helped clear a path to a final deal. It’s a fresh reminder of the potential to resolve knotty international problems when the U.S. unites with other partners around common interests and uses the strengths and advantages that those partners bring to the table.

China cannot be considered an ally of the United States, but that did not stand in the way of joint achievement. Certainly, there is much room for cooperation with states that are neither allies nor enemies, and we need to seek ways to work in harmony.

As former Secretary of State Clinton once said: “Our approach to foreign policy must reflect the world as it is, not as it used to be.”

The United States is still the indispensable nation, and we will have to continue to provide leadership in the world. But our world is increasingly multipolar, and we have to work well with other nations whose economic, political and military weight will be can be brought to bear on global and regional problems, including countries that are not traditional allies. And in the process, we may also improve relations with those countries, yielding yet another benefit to the world.

Beijing welcomed the breakthrough deal with Iran, saying it would help safeguard peace and stability in the Middle East and reinforce the international nuclear non-proliferation system. The successful outcome of the Iran nuclear talks shows even countries with complex relationships with the U.S., including China, can play a cooperative role when its interests align with ours.

The Iran nuclear deal is no doubt a milestone. It should neutralize Iran’s stockpile of uranium refined to a concentration of 20 per cent, which is below the level needed for weapons, and provides for enhanced, more frequent U.N. nuclear inspections

Despite all the controversies, the deal offers a great opportunity for the international community to cap Iran’s nuclear ambition and efforts, and bring a brighter prospect for the chaotic situation in the region.

Pachios served as associate White House press secretary under President Lyndon B. Johnson. From 1999 to 2003, he served as chairman of the U.S. Advisory Commission of Public Diplomacy that advised the president, secretary of State, and Congress on public diplomacy programs carried out by the U.S. State Department. He is currently a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.


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