P5+1: A Victory for Russia and China
As nuclear negotiations drag out, it is important to reflect on who has been the winner after more than a year of talks. It is not just Iran—its benefits are obvious. Iran has been the recipient of billions of dollars worth of relief under the Joint Plan of Action and has been given a year of reprieve to carry on with its ballistic weapons research and its other plans across the Middle East. Tremendous benefits have also been reaped by other P5+1 nations—particularly Russia and China.
Whenever a nuclear deadline draws near, it fills the news headlines. For Russian President Vladimir Putin, it is a welcome distraction. Anything that takes the media’s gaze off Ukraine benefits his cause. The sooner the plight of the people in Ukraine is forgotten, the sooner Putin can launch his next bid to wrest more territory from Ukrainian hands.
Putin also benefits from the United States’ distraction. It is obvious President Barack Obama believes that the nuclear negotiations are a top international priority. A deal with Iran would be a far more glamorous jewel in Mr. Obama’s policy crown than a murky resolution in Ukraine.
The distraction is also welcomed by China. In the South China Sea, the Chinese have been steadily building their artificial islands—unsinkable aircraft carriers. The move is just the latest and most extreme move by China to lay claim to the potentially resource-rich and geographically vital region. On the doorstep of the Philippines and other key U.S. allies in the area, this is an aggressive and blatant attempt by China to bully its way onto the critical trade region. Thankfully for China, Iran’s nuclear program represents a far more pressing and attention-grabbing headline. So the islands are silently rising, and Chinese belligerence goes on.
Remember America’s “pivot to Asia”? The brief swing morphed into a 360-degree turn and sent America right back into the Middle East. The climate of instability has fastened the U.S. firmly to the region.
Confronting Chinese military expansion would require an investment in the U.S.’s allies and an increased U.S. military presence. That isn’t feasible when U.S. power is needed so desperately in the Middle East.
China knows it. The Asian nations knows that the U.S. cannot financially sustain a stronger military presence in Asia without further jeopardizing the position it holds in the Middle East. Already places like Iraq and Afghanistan have drained billions of U.S. dollars, and the Islamic State presence keeps the figures rising. If Iran races for nukes again, the arms race in the Middle East will be off and traditional U.S. allies will be looking to Washington for more support.
No Asia pivot means the U.S. won’t meddle in China’s quest to dominate its Asian neighbors. The ineffectiveness of the pivot could easily be marked by the fact that China just launched the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The Chinese-dominated bank overshadows America’s Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is intended to create a single trading community in the Asia-Pacific.
China is saber-rattling in the South China Sea and ruling as the economic powerhouse of Asia, all a clear challenge to Washington’s ineffective pivot.
Destroying U.S.-Arab Relations
The nuclear negotiations have severely strained relations between the U.S. and some of its more traditional Arabic allies. The Russians are moving quickly to befriend the disenchanted parties.
After the U.S., some of the most invested countries in the Middle East are Russia and China. Russia offered an oil-for-goods deal with Tehran that increased Iran’s oil exports by 50 percent. China also drinks up many of the resources Iran can sell, and will undoubtedly take more once sanctions are lifted further.
In Syria, Russia remains one of the key players. The Russians offer Assad resolute support and stand alongside Tehran in doing so.
In Egypt, the relationship between Russia and the fledgling government of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi is growing.
More and more often we see Russia playing an active role in shaping Middle East geopolitics. Russia’s indiscriminate arms sales and nuclear development combine with its desire to replace American influence with its own. Already nations like the Saudis and United Arab Emirates (uae) are making multibillion dollar investment deals with the Russians. Riyadh recently signed a deal stating they would be investing $10 billion in Russia over the next five years. The uae has invested over $7 billion in Russian infrastructure and plans more in the agricultural sector. The investments highlight the rift with America, and the prominent role being taken by Russia.
Empowered U.S. Enemy
“The enemy of my enemy is Iran.” That’s the mind-set for Russia and China. Both nations are keenly interested in seeing the decline of the U.S. on the world scene. As rising economic and military powerhouses, Russia and China stand to gain from a declining America in the Middle East. The empowerment of Iran—a longtime enemy of the U.S.—falls in line with Russian policy of U.S. opposition. There may be talk of stronger ties between Tehran and Washington, but Russia has little to fear. Top Iranian officials announced just this week that even if a deal is signed, the U.S. will be no friend of Iran.
Iranian empowerment in the Middle East plays right into the hands of Beijing and the Kremlin.
Ten years ago the Trumpet warned:
Driving Moscow’s aspirations for relations with Tehran is Russia’s (and Iran’s) quest to marginalize, if not eradicate, American influence from their respective regions. … The fact is, anti-Americanism is a defining ideology underlying Russian-Iranian relations.
The negotiations have been ongoing for over a year now, and provide the Russians with a unique bargaining chip. Both nations know how much the negotiations mean to President Obama. And they exploit it.
When Russia and America were exchanging blows over Ukraine, Putin knew he could use the negotiations as leverage. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Interfax News Agency, “We wouldn’t like to use these talks as an element of the game of raising the stakes … but if [the United States] force us into that, we will take retaliatory measures here as well.” That is good old-fashioned Russian blackmail—no subtlety needed.
That is just one documented instance. Who knows how many times America has turned a blind eye to Russian and Chinese dealings in an effort to streamline the negotiating process with Iran.
As the deal looms large, and Iran stands to gain $150 billion worth of sanctions relief, we should remember that its negotiating partner is not just America. It is the P5+1, which includes Russia and China. And over the course of the negotiations, it hasn’t just been Iran that has benefited. Both Russia and China have had and will continue to have a vested interest in the rise of Iran through nuclear negotiations—and will reap the benefits.