Iran looks to China, Russia to break out of U.S. sanctions
Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands in Moscow. (Getty Images)
November 8th, 2011
11:12 AM ET

Iran looks to China, Russia to break out of U.S. sanctions

Editor's Note: Juan Cole is Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan.  The following is reprinted from his blog, Informed Comment.

By Juan Cole, Informed Comment

The four rounds of United Nations Security Council sanctions on Iran are likely about as far as Russia and China are willing to go. Even the new charges against Iran apparently contained in the forthcoming International Atomic Energy Agency report (which do not rise to the level of accusing Tehran of having an active nuclear weapons program or of having diverted uranium to it), according to Reuters, are unlikely to impress China and Russia.

The problem is that sanctions on the Iranian financial and banking sector are already so extensive that the only way to go beyond them is to start a boycott of Iranian petroleum and gas.

But China simply won’t go along with any such policy. In fact, China increased its petroleum imports from Iran in the first half of 2011 by 50% over the previous year. China took 650,000 barrels a day from Iran last June, making the latter the third biggest supplier, following Saudi Arabia and Angola. China also increased its naphtha imports from Iran by 280% over the previous year!

China is now the world’s second-largest petroleum importer, after the United States, and clearly sees imports from Iran as an important part of its energy mix. So China is not voting at the U.N. to inflict on itself a shortfall of over half a million barrels a day of petroleum

Iran exports about 2.4 million barrels a day of petroleum, of which China imports a little over a fourth.

Moreover, it would not be a good thing for anyone to have a global boycott (essentially a blockade) of Iranian petroleum, since that move would take the 2.4 million barrels a day off the world market and drive prices up to several hundred dollars a barrel.

So it just isn’t going to happen.

(Another significant Iranian export market, India, has been able to pay down its $5 billion in arrears, using the Turkish Halk Bank, and there are rumors that Tehran might turn, or has turned, to a Russian bank as well. India had temporary difficulties in paying for Iranian oil because, at President Obama’s urging, Delhi kicked Iran off the South Asia banking exchange.)

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently issued a stern warning against any use of military force against Iran, cleverly reminding Israel and the U.S. that only self-defense or a U.N. Security Council resolution could authorize such an attack in international law, and neither is in evidence.

Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi attended the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which groups China and Russia with four Central Asian states. Tehran is seeking to move from observer status to being a full member.

The SCO may prove a congenial home for Iran. It is an area where the U.S. has little diplomatic clout, and the U.S. is seen as bogged down in Afghanistan.

The new, more pro-U.S. International Atomic Energy Agency is willing to speculate about Iran’s nuclear enrichment program in a way that Mohammed Elbaradei never was. I have argued that Iran is seeking “nuclear latency” or the “Japan option,” that is, it does not want to now construct or store a nuclear warhead. Rather, Tehran wants the ability to construct a nuclear warhead in a short period of time if it became necessary to deter an invasion of the sort the U.S. inflicted on Iraq. If Iran actually constructed a nuclear device and detonated it, the action might well produce North Korea-style sanctions and isolation. But latency has almost the same deterrent effect, and is much less costly in global political capital.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Juan Cole. For more, visit Informed Comment.

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Topics: China • Foreign Policy • Iran • Russia

soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. friendsofindia

    How wonderful that the US is now going to invade Iran, our Tata's Parthian homeland now falling into the dirty hands of Muslim mulahs. As the world's greatest democracy and its only super duper power, India should join the US in this invasion, for this is the only chance that the invasion can ever succeed.

    On the one hand, the US has plenty of experience of invading other countries, with the skills honed in the invasion of Panama, Greennada, Kosovo, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, that India lacks. On the other, India has resources and ways and means to manage large dalit populations. We can send 100 million of our dalit armies, that completely overwhelm all the population in Iran. We can make all the Iranian girls to be married to our dalit soldiers, that will instantly solve our problem of too few girls, and at the same time all the next generation of them will be our content India dalits instead of being Muslims who are constantly a pain on India's butt. As for the rest of the Iranian men, they will either all be vaporized in their unholy and futile so called resistance, or that they can all migrate to Saudi Arabia to co-habit with their fellow Muslims.

    This will completely change the geostrategic situation in south Asia, it will make India the strongest nation in the world, and enhancing our world's greatest and largest and duperest super power status. And in fact, that should turn it around immediately to make the USA our vassal state because of our immediate control of Iranian oil and gas and our chokehold on the straits of Hormus.

    Submit to your fate under our Hindu Colossus, beg our 5 rupee meal middle classes, bow to our super powers.

    Pray for India, we will have pity on you. Jai Hind!

    November 8, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Reply
    • shahin

      I always heard Indian were smart. How the hell did YOU fall off the grid?
      Keep it to Tech Support you internet commando.

      November 8, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Reply
    • Keith

      Iranians figured this out pretty good..... West has no money and an imperium on the verge of the collapse.... China/Russia both have Trillions of Surplus and powers of the future... why worrring about powers of the past???

      November 11, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Reply

      Don't listen to him, he is a Paki troll masquerading as an Indian.

      November 12, 2011 at 4:54 am | Reply
    • Tron
















      November 20, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Reply
  2. craigmichael

    Wow, friendsofindia, that's some bold talk with big ambitions behind. Now if only the Indian army new how to fight?!

    November 8, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Reply
  3. j. von hettlingen

    Central Asia has become a chess-board of the region, where China and Russia play the key-roles and the others – Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan the supporting-roles in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, formed in 2001. India, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia joined later as observer members. This SCO would never be a supranational organisation like the European Union, but it is out of demographic point of view, the biggest regional organisation on earth.

    November 8, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Reply
  4. Onesmallvoice

    Hopefully the Iranians will succeed in this endeavor. We Americans have been bullying other nations for far too long and now is the time for a change. As this continues to go on, the right-wing thugs in Washington grow more corrupt day after day and this getting increasingly repulsive!!!

    November 8, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Reply
  5. thughes218

    If China and Russia can't be persuaded to support tougher UN sanctions, then form a coalition (NATO, GCC, others) without them to embargo Iran's oil and gas.The UN is not a mutual suicide pack. Russia, China, and the UN have become impediments to stopping Iranian nuclear weapons program. While an oil/gas embargo is risky escalation, better than the alternatives of preemptive military action by Israel or others, or delaying action until Iran has nukes. Also, ask GCC to up production to cover loss of Iranian oil/gas exports.

    November 8, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Reply
    • Matt

      Such is to be expected from a person like you with your limited intelligence. Only a bully-loving idiot like you would make such a comment like that!

      November 8, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Reply
      • thughes218

        Brilliant rebuttal! Here's some others discussing options. Perhaps you could share your critical analysis with them as well.,7340,L-4145781,00.html

        November 8, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  6. john dahodi

    I think it would be much better, safer and sound if Iran becomes a nuclear power sooner than later. There will be many advantages; like (i) Iran will not have to send terrorists anywhere in the world (ii) Israel will follow the international rules and respect U.N. Security Council (iii) Veto power nation will stop black mailing others(iv) Iran will force others to eliminate their nuclear weapons jointly and make the world more safer (v) no more wars in the middle east (vi) Palestinian problem will be resolved in few months (vi) America will recall their military from the military bases around the globe, which will save more than trillion dollar per year; our deficit will be over at once.

    November 8, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Reply
  7. leeintulsa

    Well, i don't know about all that, but i think they should be allowed to have nukes.

    We're the only ones that ever actually used them.. TWICE.. Who are we to say who can and can't have them?

    November 8, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Reply
  8. Keith


    Iranians figured this out pretty good..... West has no money and an imperium on the verge of the collapse.... China/Russia both have Trillions of Surplus and powers of the future... why worrring about powers of the past???

    November 11, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Reply
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