June 22, 2010 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 617

The New UNSC Iran Sanctions Resolution – Main Ramifications

June 22, 2010 | By A. Savyon*
Iran, , China | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 617

An initial analysis of the fourth round of U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran, taken June 9, 2010, shows their main ramifications, as follows:

I. The Sanctions Are Empty Except for the Potential for Clashes over Searching Iran-Bound Ships in the Persian Gulf

Because the sanctions exclude Iran's oil economy, their impact will be limited; their importance lies mainly in the superpowers' token anti-Iran declaration. While the U.S. had to soften the sanctions somewhat in order to gain Russia's and China's agreement to them, it also managed to shift these two powers from their historically pro-Iran stance.

In the chess game of U.S.-Iran relations, the U.S. has racked up diplomatic points, following Iran's triumph with the Iran-Turkey-Brazil Tehran Declaration. But this achievement is of no real significance, and is unstable, especially since Russia's stance towards Iran is characterized by zigzagging.[1]

Furthermore, the option of military action against Iran is not mentioned in any context, and President Obama reiterated that the sanctions were aimed at speeding up Iran's return to the negotiating table.

As for the sanctions themselves, the resolution also includes no concrete steps except the measure of searching Iran-bound ships in the Persian Gulf, which is a challenge to Iranian sovereignty and prestige, and could lead to clashes at sea.[2]

II. Iran-China Relations Will Continue Due to the Two Countries' Interdependence

Iranian spokesman expressed disappointment and rage at China's support for the sanctions resolution, and even voiced threats against it, for the most part calling to cut back trade relations with it and threatening its special prestige and status in the Islamic world.[3]

At the same time, during his visit to China immediately following the sanctions resolution, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad praised the depth of Iran-China relations, declared that there was no reason that these relations should weaken, and stressed that there is nothing to stop them from developing further.[4] Iranian Majlis National Security Committee chairman Alaa Al-Din Boroujerdi said that it was not expected that relations with China and Russia would be cut back despite their support for the Security Council sanctions.[5]

III: Iran-Russia Relations Will Also Continue – Despite Tensions – Also Due to Interdependence

Russia's support for the sanctions was another step in the harsher Russian stance towards Iran in the past few weeks.[6] Russia's position further stiffened following Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's June 11, 2010 statements,[7] and following a senior Russian security industry official's June 9 statements that Moscow was freezing the S-300 missile defense system deal on the pretext that it was obligated to do so under the new sanctions.[8] At the same time, on June 10, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who had denied that the sanctions applied to the S-300 deal, announced that negotiations were currently underway between Moscow and Tehran on constructing additional nuclear reactors to produce electricity for the country.

Iran-Russia relations began deteriorating after Ahmadinejad's May 26 threat to Russia that Moscow might find itself in a position where it was hostile to Iran. Russian spokesmen retaliated by reminding Iran of its historical, geopolitical, and military inferiority to Russia.[9]

The reason for the stepped-up tension in the Russia-Iran relationship, and particularly for Russia's attitude towards Iran, seems to be the Tehran Declaration and its ramifications. Russia sees Iran's declaration of a new world order, and the beginning of its implementation in the form of the Iran-Turkey-Brazil alliance, as a concrete, long-term, and very real threat to its superpower status and its geopolitical status – particularly in light of the fact that both Iran and Turkey are at its borders and both influence the Shi'ite and Sunni populations in Russia and in its old sphere of geopolitical influence.

Despite Ahmadinejad's belligerent anti-Moscow declarations, Iranian Majlis National Security Committee chairman Alaa Al-Din Boroujerdi clarified that Iran was adhering to its relations with Russia, regardless of Russia's support for the sanctions. He added that the two countries maintain economic cooperation on a scale of tens of millions of dollars.[10]

IV: Obama's Policy Will Lead to the Opposite of What He Intends – It Will Accelerate the Nuclear Arms Race in the Middle East

The policy of global nuclear disarmament that President Obama is leading must be examined against the backdrop of the UNSC sanctions on Iran and of the international community's consciously futile attempts to persuade Iran to freeze its nuclear program.

In May 2010, the Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was held in New York. Obama personally did everything he could to ensure that the conference would be a success – that is, that it would produce a unanimous resolution. In order for this to be achieved, and to avoid a repeat of the "failure" of the 2005 NPT Review Conference, Obama was forced to accept the dictates of Egypt and Iran.

Under pressure from Iran, the U.S. agreed not to name Iran in the concluding resolution as a state that is violating the NPT (contrary to what is indicated in various IAEA reports).

Furthermore, under Egyptian pressure, which threatened to veto the resolution, and thus to undermine the conference's "success," the resolution called on Israel to sign the NPT charter – meaning that it must end its policy of ambiguity regarding its nuclear capability, and that it must give up any such capability. The conference also called for WMD disarmament in the Middle East, and for convening a regional conference in 2012 to advance the idea.

While the U.S. supported the NPT conference resolution, after its passage Obama and other U.S. administration officials expressed reservations about its isolation of Israel, and reiterated their commitment to strengthening Israel's security. However, Obama did welcome the resolution, saying that it "includes balanced and practical steps that will advance nonproliferation, nuclear disarmament, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy, which are critical pillars of the global nonproliferation regime."[11]

Although both Egypt and President Obama see the NPT conference as a success, it appears that this success is a double-edged sword for them. Egypt, whose policy reflects hostility towards Israel, and which for years has led the diplomatic fight against Israel's nuclear issue,[12] is harmed by this success, because today the main threat to Egypt (as well as to its ally Saudi Arabia) comes not from Israel's nuclear capability, but from Iran and from the Islamic resistance axis. Thus, by pushing the international community against Israel, Egypt has in effect increased the Iranian threat to itself (and to Saudi Arabia). In the near future, Egypt can expect to find itself in an uncomfortable position, without a nuclear power status of its own but situated between two other nuclear powers – Israel (which in the meantime is maintaining its policy of ambiguity) and Iran.

It is unreasonable to assume that either Israel or Iran will relinquish its nuclear status. This means that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the other Arab countries in the Gulf will have to turn to their ally the U.S. to obtain nuclear weapons. Thus, for President Obama, who has declared that he aspires to promote an ideal of a world free of all nuclear weapons, the NPT review conference's success is merely an illusion, and the unanimous resolution that he strove to attain can only accelerate the nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

*A. Savyon is director of the Iranian Media Project.


[1] Russia is maintaining a "carrot and stick" policy of its own with Iran, out of its concern for its interests, and out of the view that Iran is part of Moscow's traditional sphere of influence against the U.S. and the West. Clearly, Moscow does not want a nuclear Iran at its borders; however, it sees Iran as a secondary interest versus its complex relationship with the U.S.

It should be further noted that while Russia's security industry, the Kremlin, and Prime Minister Putin have on numerous occasions expressed a rigid stance towards Iran, the Russian Foreign Ministry tends to take a more lenient attitude.

[2] Majlis National Security Committee member Mohammad Karami-Rad warned, "If they [i.e. the West] want to search Iranian ships based on [the sanctions resolution], Iran will search every ship in the Persian Gulf region." IRNA (Iran), June 10, 2010.

[3] Iranian Atomic Energy Organization chairman Ali Akbar Salehi expressed amazement that China had submitted to the U.S., saying that China was losing its special status in the Islamic world, and expressed an implied threat by saying that when it woke up one day it would be too late (ISNA, Iran, June 9, 2010). The vice chairman of the Majlis Energy Affairs Committee said that the committee was examining ways to enact counter-sanctions against China and Russia, which would be aimed at reducing trade with them (Fararu, Iran, June 11, 2010). Majlis National Security Committee member Hashmatollah Falahat-Pisheh stated that China and Russia were using Iran to rake in economic profits and political gains while they abandoned it in the U.N. Security Council, and called to cut back on economic relations with them (Mehr, Iran, June 9, 2010). The Iranian daily Jomhouri-ye Eslami, which opposes Ahmadinejad, stated that Russia and China could expect consequences for their support for the anti-Iran sanctions (Jomhouri-ye Eslami, Iran, June 13, 2010). Majlis National Security Committee member Vali Esmaili said that a group of 25 Majlis members was forming to act to cut back economic relations with China and Russia (Shafaf, Iran, June 12, 2010). The Payam-e Khordad website complained that Iranian President Ahmadinejad was praising relations with China even after it voted for the sanctions, and that he could not assure Iran's national interests (, June 12, 2010).

[4] Fararu (Iran), June 11, 2010.

[5] Mehr (Iran), June 13, 2010.

[6] The conservative Iranian daily Qods called on the regime to advance nuclear relations with Turkey, Brazil, and China at the expense of Russia, so as to make it clear to Russia that Iran's nuclear program did not depend on it. The paper added that Russia's behavior towards Iran, as expressed, inter alia, by its leaders' threats against this country, indicates that Russia sees Iran as an "inferior partner" (Qods, Iran, June 8, 2010). The moderate-conservative Ebtekar daily stated that Russia had never sought to solve Iran's nuclear issue, and that it was advancing the sanctions against Tehran in retaliation for Iran's having preferred Turkey to Russia for the Tehran Declaration. The paper also warned Russia that its cooperation with the West against Iran would have irreversible consequences, and added that its deceitful conduct shows that it is not committed to any moral principle (Ebtekar, Iran, June 7, 2010). Majlis National Security Committee member Ali Arazadeh warned Russia that its support for the sanctions against Iran had grave ramifications for its relations with Iran and with other countries, because it indicates lack of credibility (Mehr, Iran, June 8, 2010). An article in the IRGC weekly Sobh-e Sadeq stated that despite the statements of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that they would continue consultations with the U.N. Security Council regarding the sanctions on Iran, Russia had drawn up the anti-Iran sanctions together with the U.S. (Sobh-e Sadeq, Iran, May 31, 2010). The Jomhouri-ye Eslami daily stated that in their behind-the-scenes contacts with the U.S., Russia and China had made Iran into a "bargaining chip," gaining incentives from the U.S. in return for their support of the sanctions (Jomhouri-ye Eslami, Iran, June 14, 2010). The editor of the IRGC monthly Payam-e Enqelab, Hassan Alai, likewise stated that Russia was using the Iranian card to resolve its problems vis-à-vis the U.S., adding that Russia and China could not be counted upon to staunchly defend Iran against the U.S., Europe or Israel. "In the present conditions," he wrote, "Russia is unlikely to deliver the [S-300] missiles to Iran; it will deliver them [only] when it feels concern that Iran might make progress towards resolving its problems with America... The more the tension between Iran and the U.S. grows, the more Russia benefits from [this tension] and moves away from Iran." (Khabar Online, Iran, June 13, 2010). An analysis on the Basirat website, affiliated with the IRGC, said that Russia is likely to continue drawing closer to the West in the intermediate future, but that this does not mean it will adopt this orientation permanently. The article added that Russia needs Iran, even if it tries not to admit it, and advised the Iranian leadership to remind this country, should it persist in its current policy, that it "needs Iran more than Iran needs Russia." (Basirat, Iran, June 8, 2010).

[7] Vesti, Russia, June 11, 2010.

[8] ILNA (Iran), June 12, 2010.

[9] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 614, "Ahmadinejad Threatens Russia, Receives Response," May 27, 2010, Ahmadinejad Threatens Russia, Receives Response

[10] Mehr, Iran, June 13, 2010.

[12] Egypt is calling for condemning Israel and advancing a nuclear weapon-free zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East, but not for chemical or biological weapons disarmament.

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