Instead, both powers seek their own solutions to energy problems and will use the Iranian crisis as a means of destabilizing U.S. power in the Middle East, leaving the Bush administration with precious few levers of influence with which to challenge them, experts argued Wednesday at a conference at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
As the U.S. pushes the issue of Iranian nuclear capabilities to the U.N. Security Council, the chance of obtaining meaningful resolutions has grown increasingly reliant on the actions of Russia and China. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., framed the international debate over Iran's nuclear program as a "defense of freedom" in which China and Russia were sending the wrong signals.
Brownbeck said Russian President Vladimir Putin's announced willingness to meet with representatives of Hamas, coupled with China's "economic outreach without concern for human rights," were reasons for U.S. concern. He said it was important the U.S. remain "clear-eyed" when facing the world's "disturbing reincarnations of dictatorships, socialism and nationalism."
Experts asserted that Russia and China do not necessarily want to see a nuclear Iran, but fear U.S. hegemony in the Southeast Asia and the Middle East even more.
Igor Zevelev, Washington bureau chief of Russian news agency RIA Novosti, said the U.S. could gain Putin's cooperation on Iran as long as "there is a strong commitment to multi-lateral diplomacy" and the U.S. does not appear to be rushing to use the military option.
According to Zevelev, Washington has much less bargaining leverage on Moscow than it did a decade ago. "Some small carrots were acceptable to Russia 10 years ago" when Russia was far weaker financially, he said.
But now, in an attempt to enlarge its own regional profile, "Russia is not acting with Europe, it is acting on its own," he continued. "Russia would like to restore its superpower status and not be seen as bending to the West as a junior partner. One may argue that Russia sees Iran as a very good market for arms sales and would like to keep it that way."
Stephen Blank, a research professor at the U.S. Army War College, said Russia's refusal to cooperate more closely with the U.S. on the Iran issue was "an attempt by Russia to gain status as an opposite pole by confounding the U.S. regionally."
Leland R. Miller, a lawyer who has worked on numerous contracts involving Chinese businesses, said China might actually take a more positive and cooperative stand than was generally believed. Blank agreed, saying that "China more than Russia has behaved as a stakeholder."
However, Miller said that China and Russia "will provide as little assistance as possible," to the U.S. on the Security Council, allowing Iran to go nuclear by 2008.
Ariel Cohen, senior research fellow at Heritage for Eurasia, Russia and international energy, said that when Iran went nuclear, its whole posture in the region would change to bullying its Arab neighbors. This would provoke Turkey to begin development of a nuclear program and Israel to step up and display its own nuclear capabilities, Cohen said, adding that Iran's possession of nuclear weapons would cause "a tectonic change in the Middle East."
But Sen. Brownback said the U.S. still possessed major leverage on Russia and China -- which will continue to depend on access to U.S. markets and technologies -- and argued that their leaders must therefore be challenged.