Daily Archives: August 15, 2007

Iran and Great Power Politics

Posted by Cutler on August 15, 2007
China, Great Power Rivalry, Iran, Iraq, Russia / No Comments

Iran is, by most accounts, riding high these days, with unprecedented influence within Afghanistan and Iraq and powerful Mediterranean proxy forces like Hezbollah and Hamas.

Who am I to disagree?

Nevertheless, a few small news stories shed a slightly different light on the Iranian strategic position.

For example, an August 11, 2007 report from BBC Monitoring of Al-Sharqiyah Television suggests the limits of Iranian influence in Iraq, if not also Russia:

“Diplomatic sources in Moscow said that the Iranian Government played a mediatory role in the visit of Iraqi Oil Minister Husayn al- Shahrastani to Moscow. Sources close to the Iranian Embassy in the Russian capital added that Iran asked Al-Shahrastani to agree on Russia’s demands to re-negotiate the investment of some southern oil wells based on a memorandum of understanding signed by the former Iraqi regime with a number of big Russian oil firms in the early 1990s. The sources went to say the Iranian step seeks to secure Moscow’s support for its nuclear programme.”

As I noted in a previous post, Shahrastani appears to have resisted Russian pressure for re-negotiation on the West Qurna fields–Iranian “mediation” notwithstanding.

What does it say about Iranian influence in Iraq if the Iranian regime cannot “deliver” Iraq for Russia?

And, can this outcome bode well for Iranian attempts to renew Moscow’s support for its nuclear programme?

Even as the US attempts to use financial pressure to isolate the Iranian regime, there are signs that Iran may be having some difficulty lining up Great Power allies.

The Washington Post reports:

The key obstacle to stronger international pressure against Tehran has been China, Iran’s largest trading partner. After the Iranian government refused to comply with two U.N. Security Council resolutions dealing with its nuclear program, Beijing balked at a U.S. proposal for a resolution that would have sanctioned the Revolutionary Guard, U.S. officials said.

China’s actions reverse a cycle during which Russia was the most reluctant among the veto-wielding members of the Security Council. “China used to hide behind Russia, but Russia is now hiding behind China,” said a U.S. official familiar with negotiations.

Be that as it may, there are also limits to China’s willingness to shelter the Iranian regime.

The Financial Times reports on China’s potential reluctance to back Iranian efforts to get a seat at the Shanghai Co-operation Organization:

Russia that is pushing the latest efforts to give the [Shanghai Co-operation Organisation] more muscle. Moscow is expected to lobby this week for Iran’s inclusion, which would deepen the rift with the US over Washington’s plan to site missile interceptors in central Europe.

While Russia is at odds with the US, Nato and the European Union on a range of issues, China regards the recently sealed US nuclear pact with India with deep suspicion and could see that as justification to allow Iran’s entry…

Some analysts, however, believe China would block any proposal to allow Iran to join the SCO. “Admitting Iran would further strain already tense Chinese-US relations and would not advance China’s main priority in the SCO, which is to manage relations with its western neighbours,” says Martha Brill Olcott, a central Asia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for Inter-national Peace.

It would be a mistake to underestimate Iranian strategic leverage in the Middle East, the Gulf, and Central Asia.

But there are limits.

From Cheney’s perspective, it might even be argued (as he did during the 1990s), that Iran–as a Caspian regional power–would do well to align itself not with Russia or China, but with the United States.

That seems difficult to imagine, given all the tough talk between the US and Iran.  But stranger things have happened.