UN steps up to the plate -- and bunts

Yesterday, the UN Security Council finally reacted to the new intelligence indicating that — surprise! — Iran continues to lie about its work on nuclear technology. After a smuggled laptop showed significant new evidence of Iranian deception on weapons research, including a video of the work being done under the nose of the IAEA, the UNSC took action … in the usual manner. It passed an expansion of sanctions that the Washington Post describes as “watered down” and mostly voluntary:

The United Nations imposed new sanctions on Iran yesterday, capping a year of difficult diplomacy that may represent the Bush administration’s final bid to mobilize international action against Tehran over its controversial nuclear program.

Just five months after President Bush warned that Iran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons could lead to “World War III,” the White House had to settle for a watered-down U.N. resolution that makes most trade and financial sanctions voluntary. The Security Council voted 14 to 0 to sanction Iran for refusing to stop its uranium-enrichment program, falling one short of the unanimous vote the White House sought to signal the international community’s resolve.

U.S. diplomacy was undercut by China’s growing oil trade with Iran, Russia’s ties to Tehran’s nuclear energy program and skepticism among four developing countries on the council about the need for yet another U.N. resolution. But Washington’s own National Intelligence Estimate in December — which concluded with “high confidence” that Iran had shelved its nuclear weapons program in 2003 — did more than anything else to undermine the prospects for a hard-hitting resolution, according to current and former U.S. officials.

So what exactly did we get from these new sanctions? Perhaps it would be better to review what we did not get. We did not get sanctions against the Revolutionary Guards, and not even against the Qods Force. The banks targeted for their participation in terrorism and the nuclear program emerged unscathed.

We managed to salvage the following:

  • A travel ban on five Iranian officials
  • A “mandate” for UN members to “exercise vigiliance” in transactions with Bank Melli and Bank Saderat
  • An expansion of the list of dual-use items banned from trade with Iran
  • Urging members to inspect aircraft and ships to Iran if they suspect smuggling contraband

That hardly presents an impressive resolution. Iran protested it, but probably out of habit and formality. One could hardly have expected the UNSC to bother with such a toothless resolution, and the fact that they heralded it as some sort of diplomatic advance against Iranian intransigence speaks volumes about the usefulness of the UN.

China and Russia once again triumphed in protecting their trade interests with Iran. Nor was that the end of their interference for their ally, as today they blocked an IAEA resolution aimed at merely scolding Iran:

Russia and China on Tuesday scuttled a Western attempt to introduce a resolution on Iran’s nuclear defiance at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, diplomats said. …

Moscow on Monday had threatened not to back the new U.N. sanctions against Iran unless the West gave up its IAEA resolution plans.

Then on Tuesday it signaled that it was ready to back such a document if it was given substantial input in drafting it before deciding later in the day that it was against it after all, said the diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was confidential.

Asked why Russia and China were opposed, one of diplomats said Moscow decided to withdraw its support “on principle” and Beijing, which often takes a cue from Russia on the Iran nuclear dispute, followed suit.

The UN and the IAEA have proven themselves incapable of resolving the very issues that both exist to handle. The US and the EU should pursue this themselves and cut both organizations out of the loop from this point forward. If cooperation cannot come from Beijing and Moscow on nuclear proliferation in the world’s foremost terrorist-supporting state, then they have made themselves irrelevant.