Chalk one more for the war mongers as a pro-US leak designed to convince the world that "everybody, even the Chinese" want to keep beating Iran with the IAEA stick. Commentary by China Hand.

 

There is a certain amount of excitement in the non-proliferation blogosphere - or at least, over at Arms Control Wonk - about an AP report that China has provided the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with information on Iran's nuclear weapons activities.

This item is being taken as support for the narrative that everybody - even China, which has consistently blocked onerous UN National Security Council sanctions against Iran - is concerned enough about Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions to support the International Atomic Energy Agency in continuing to keep the Iran dossier open.

The AP report stated:

China, an opponent of harsh U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran, has nonetheless recently provided the International Atomic Energy Agency with intelligence linked to Tehran's alleged attempts to make nuclear arms, diplomats have told The Associated Press.

A Chinese decision to provide information for use in the agency's attempts to probe Iran's purported nuclear weapons program would appear to reflect growing international unease about how honest the Islamic republic has been in denying it ever tried to make such arms.

Damien McElroy of the Daily Telegraph, apparently recycling the AP story, went straight for the throat in his lead:

China has betrayed one of its closest allies by providing the United Nations with intelligence on Iran's efforts to acquire nuclear technology, diplomats have revealed.

I think that's a fundamental misreading of the situation.

I believe that China sees the best hope of resolving the Iran crisis as implementation of the grand bargain by which the United States regularizes relations with Iran - and that China accepts that the most effective, if risky, bargaining chip Iran has is its nuclear program, just as North Korea did.

In my view, China believes that a sea change in US policy toward Iran is the pre-condition for progress - certainly not sanctions, or America's continued efforts to keep the IAEA's Iran dossier open, and Iran in sanctionable, pariah-state status.

I could be wrong - yes, it might happen - but I don't see any Chinese eagerness to add new unresolved items to the IAEA's Iran dossier by passing on tittle-tattle about Iran's nuclear weapons activities.

Maybe the Chinese simply supplied some information or opinion in response to an IAEA query, and provided the United States with a spinnable moment.

The US Treasury Department has escalated its financial blockade against Iran, putting the entire Iranian banking sector on its money-laundering/terrorism watch list as of March 20.

So I look at the AP story as a pro-US leak designed to convince the world that "everybody, even the Chinese" want to keep beating Iran with the IAEA stick.

If one looks at U.S. actions since the NIE (National Intelligence Estimate) was leaked, it should be clear that, although military action is off the table, U.S. hostility and a penchant for zero-sum confrontation are still driving our Iran policy.

In fact, it looks like the Bush administration is working overtime to put the NIE behind it and find as many reasons and methods to confront Iran as possible.

The US Treasury Department has escalated its financial blockade against Iran, putting the entire Iranian banking sector on its money-laundering/terrorism watch list as of March 20.

We've stepped up measures to damage Iran economically by attacking the Iran-related entrepot trade carried out in the UAE and Bahrain, most recently by blacklisting an Iran-linked bank in Bahrain.

The US government, through our European allies, has labored mightily but unsuccessfully to create problems for the Teheran regime by disrupting its gasoline imports.

And, lest we forget, CIA Chief Michael Hayden on March 31 followed up President Bush's imputation of nuclear weapon ambitions to Iran with his own suspicions:

Asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" whether he thought Iran was trying to develop a nuclear weapon, Hayden said, "Yes," adding that his assessment was not based on "court-of-law stuff.... This is Mike Hayden looking at the body of evidence."

Hayden's use of the "court of law" formulation is telling.

The Iranian position is: We're a sovereign state in good standing and we deserve due process. Unless the IAEA can come up with hard evidence supporting the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt, it should close the dossier and the U.N. should lift the sanctions.

The US position is, assuage our unassuagable doubts - thereby taking the decision to close the Iran dossier out of the hands of the IAEA.

In other words, the U.S. is gaming the sanctions regime just like the Iranians and, whenever there's a chance that the IAEA looks like it might close the dossier, leaks something to keep the pot boiling.

And, as long as that's the criterion for keeping the Iran dossier open (and the sanctions on), then anything that comes over the transom, regardless of its provenance or chain of custody, is grounds for justifying the persistence of those nagging doubts.

In other words, the U.S. is gaming the sanctions regime just like the Iranians and, whenever there's a chance that the IAEA looks like it might close the dossier, leaks something to keep the pot boiling.

And that's why the Chinese are correct to point out that the key to resolving the crisis lies in a change of policy in Washington, and not by continuing sub rosa warfare against Iran by use of sanctions.

Of course, with every U.S. presidential candidate falling over him or herself to proclaim undying hostility to Iran, Beijing - and Teheran - are probably in for a long wait.

As an interesting/puzzling sideline, Iran's Presstv media outlet - pretty much the only English-language Iranian outlet operating over Nowruz, the Iranian new year's holiday - has chosen an odd and apparently incorrect framing for the China story: that "Chinese diplomats" leaked the news that China had provided classified information on Iran's nuclear program to the IAEA.

The AP report described the sourcing as follows:

The new development was revealed by two senior diplomats who closely follow the IAEA probe of Iran's nuclear program. One commented late last week and the other Wednesday.

There's nothing in the article implying that the Chinese dished to the AP's business reporter in Vienna, George Jahn.

I waited for Presstv to pull or modify their report, but they never did.

In fact, they repeated the assertion that Chinese diplomats were responsible for the leak in three followup articles, including the one containing the Chinese government's formal denial that any communication took place:

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Thursday that the report was "totally groundless and out of ulterior motives.'' The Chinese official did not provide any further details.

On Wednesday AP quoted two senior Chinese diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as saying that China has provided the IAEA with classified intelligence to use in its probe into Iran's nuclear program.

China has repeatedly opposed the imposition of further sanctions on Iran, in the United Nation Security Council, and has constantly called for a diplomatic solution to Iran's nuclear standoff with West.

MGH/MMN

Strange.

I'd expect that crack correspondents "MGH/MMN" are due for a stint at Iran's holiday camp for careless correspondents and sloppy editors as soon as their bosses get back from New Year's vacation, but maybe there's more here than meets the eye.

Note: China Hand edits the very interesting website, China Matters.

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