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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Analysis: Iran's Power Brokers

Council on Foreign Relations

April 15, 2008
Author: Greg Bruno

Amid another round of crisis diplomacy on Iran’s nuclear program, Russia and China appear to hold ever more potent cards. Energy-rich Iran has turned to them for financial and political help. U.S. and EU negotiators, meanwhile, need Russian and Chinese support on the UN Security Council to levy tougher international sanctions—or at least a promise not to veto them. The stakes continue to move higher. In March, Iran applied for full membership to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, an intergovernmental security organization headed by Russia and China. Pyotr Goncharov, a political commentator for the Russian news agency Novosti, writes that Iran has more than enough economic cause to gain entry. The real issue, he says, is whether China and Russia are willing to look past (Middle East Times) the nuclear question.

In many ways, they already have. China is Iran’s second-largest importer of crude oil, accounting for 335,000 barrels a day in 2006, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Beijing recently inked a $2 billion deal to develop the Yadavaran oilfield in southern Iran, and is considering investing in Iran’s natural gas sector. Overall trade volume has spiked in the last decade, up from $1.2 billion in 1998 to what an Iranian official said was $20 billion (Press TV). Moscow, for its part, maintains close military ties with Tehran (AP) and sells the country nuclear fuel (Reuters). A visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Iran in October 2007, capped by a rare welcome from Iran’s supreme leader, was seen as a blow to U.S.-backed efforts to isolate Tehran (CSMonitor).

Whether this week’s talks in Shanghai (VOA) involving Russia, China, the United States, and EU powers will lead to lasting change is doubtful.

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