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Security Council Slow but Progressing on Iran

If there has been anything encouraging regarding the Iranian nuclear crisis in the past weeks and months, it was that US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, ended last week confident that the UN Security Council would find a way to ‘send a strong message to Iran’. From another source, including the American Secretary of State and President, this would be expected diplo-speak. But the American Ambassador to the United Nations is not prone to use diplo-speak. So when he says such a thing, it carries far more weight than from another source.

The Security Council formally took up the Iranian dossier and indeed ended the Friday session with no tangible gains. But, as foretold by Bolton, progress was indeed afoot. Today, after a weekend of informal discussions and coffee table wrangling, six of the 15 members of the Security Council are meeting outside the confines of the UN body to hammer out some form of agreement worked around the framework of the British-French proposal. The proposal originally set forth a 14-day window for Iran to come into full compliance with IAEA demands, including a halt to all enrichment operations. Left unspecified were specific consequences. Russia and China originally balked at the idea, but that there has been no vociferous opposition since the initial response coupled with a quiet weekend and today’s outside talks are signs that Bolton’s sense of UNSC resolve may have been well founded.

Ambassador Emyr Jones Perry of Britain said on Friday, “I think that we are very close to agreement, at least for the overwhelming majority of the council members.” That despite Russian objections.

Tehran was working at a fevered pitch to gather Arab allies, shoring up old relationships and offering favorable trade, tourism and other relations to seemingly any and all Arab states who would throw their lot with Iran on the nuclear issue. From Syria to Tunisia to Egypt, Iran rubbed elbows and traded smiles with all who would entertain them.

But some states remained unimpressed, most notably the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. The UAE disputes the Iranian possession of several Persian Gulf islands – islands that could become pivotal in a security crisis – and Jordan’s King Abdullah warned of an encroaching Iran. Said Jordan’s pragmatic King Abdullah, “My concern is political, not religious — revolving around Iran, Iran’s political involvement inside Iraq, its relation with Syria and Hezbollah and the strengthening of this political-strategic alliance. This would create a scenario where you have these four — Iran, Iran-influenced Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah — [with] a strategic objective that could create a major conflict.”

Meanwhile, General George Casey said that he did not harbor much confidence in the coming American-Iranian talks regarding Iraq. He noted, “They’re playing, I think, a very delicate balancing act. On the one hand, they want a stable neighbor. On the other hand, I don’t believe they want to see us succeed here.” Demonstrating his doubts, he said that the Iranian influx of IEDs and other weapons and fighters simply has to stop.

Regardless, to the degree that the world remains polarized regarding the Iranian crisis, many of those supporting Iran do so clearly and simply out of distaste for anything American, especially the current sitting president. In Tehran, a religious scholar denounced President Bush for his aggression against Iran and the Arab world and called the Iran-US conflict a war between good and evil. He was a ‘researcher and writer on theological topics’…from Spain.


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Iran's bravado is based on the assumption that the US Project for democracy in Iraq is in trouble. Iran believes that the US is not ready for a new venture against Iran whilst bogged down in the Iraqi quagmire. Iran can cause problems in Iraq through its alliances with Shi'ite militias. Iran can destabalize Lebanon, courtesy of its proxy Hizbulla. The realtively quiet northern border of Israel can be ignited by Hizbulla at the behest of Iran.
Hamas and Jihad Islami in Gaza and the West Bank recieve funding and moral guidance from Tehran.
We must remeber that Iran is rapidly supplanting Syria as the mischief-maker, the spoiler and the dog in the manger, of the Middle East.
One is tempted to say that Iran has its fingers in several pies that can impact US and its allies in the region.
The disruption of oil supplies is a real threat. This can be achieved by Iran shutting its own oil exports which will hit India, China and Japan, it can also impose a blockade in the Strait of Hormuz thus preventing the movement of oil cargoes from neighbouring Gulf States to the West, and most alarmingly, if attacked by the US or Israel, it could target Saudi oil installtions and other Gulf States. This would be catastrophic for the world economy.

Iran can cause havoc and the Mullahs running the country are not shrinking violets.
King Abdulla of Jordan's warnings of Shi'ite's threat must be heeded.

nehad ismail
commentator on Middle Eastern Affairs

Of course, the card that Iran has to play is Oil... but I find myself wondering just how effective they could really be in trying to punish the West by playing the card.

From everything I read, Iran is simply desperate for hard currency. Even with the price of oil at levels unthought of even 5 years ago, they seem to be spending every bit of cash that comes in. This does not bode well for them if they really do try to cut off the oil taps. The West would certainly be forced into a short-term recession, but I suspect the loss of revenue would be disasterous for the Iranian regieme.

And the way that world oil markets work, Iran cannot simply refuse to sell to the West without refusing to sell to everyone... Once the oil is on a tanker, it is pretty much a fungible product. Some refineries might have to do some reconfigurations, and more complicated logistical issues will put upward pressures on prices, but unless the oil is completely witheld from the markets, its use as a lever on the West will be nearly useless.

My personal take on this is that we will need to call their bluff. The Western economies are resiliant enough to weather an Iranian oil embargo. Iran, however is not that flexible.

Just my $.02

Dave K is right that Iran will suffer the loss of much needed cash flow if the Oil Exports are stopped. Very little of the 2.6 million barells of crude oil exported daily go to the West. Most of the production is exported to India, China and Japan.
The real damage to the World and the West is two-fold:

1- Taking out 2.6 milllion barrels out of the world market will push the prices even higher

2- The disruption to oil exports from neighbouring Gulf States will cause panic in the markets and would lead to a world economic recession.

Yes, Iran could do something to disrupt exports from neighboring states... but that would be an act of war, and I don't quite think they are ready to jump off that cliff.

My point, however, is that the West can survive a temporary removal of Iranian oil from the market far better than Iran can survive the loss of income from that oil. Russia and China would probably be hit pretty hard economically, and though they, too, could survive the embargo, they would rather not, and don't have much incentive to push the sanctions issue to that point.

Just my $.02