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Excess Baggage


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Excess Baggage

By Claudia Rosett

Wall Street Journal

August 31, 2006

Despite today's United Nations deadline for Iran to give up its nuclear bomb program, Iran has done no such thing. The next diplomatic move is supposed to be for the U.N. to impose sanctions on Iran. That won't work, either.

Certainly Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does not seem deeply worried about the prospect of U.N. sanctions. Apart from some throwaway lines about his government's peace-loving ways, he has rejected U.N. demands, blocked U.N. inspectors, brandished samples of enriched uranium, and last week inaugurated an Iranian heavy water plant that could be used to produce plutonium. Nor did a series of extant U.N. resolutions prevent Tehran's A-team terrorist affiliate in Lebanon, Hezbollah, from launching a war this summer while Mr. Ahmadinejad pondered his options.

Some of Mr. Ahmadinejad's behavior can be discounted on grounds that he is a messianic crackpot. But there is plenty of evidence that he is making a highly rational calculation about the ease with which the U.N. can be corrupted, divided, delayed and defied -- without serious penalty.

U.N. sanctions programs depend on the agreement and cooperation of member states under a set of rules dictated not by the interests of the modern free world, but by the decayed, despot-infested collective that is the contemporary U.N. And, as prefigured under U.N. sanctions on Saddam Hussein's Iraq, major players, like Russia and China, will almost certainly cheat. Iran, with 10% of the world's known oil reserves, and the world's second largest proven reserves of natural gas, has enough resources to grease the way.

Indeed, the general greasing of Iran's important U.N. connections is already well advanced. Much as Saddam fought sanctions by dangling fat oil development deals and doling out lucrative Oil for Food contracts to win friends and influence politicians, Tehran has already cultivated a global web of current and prospective business partners. Were Iran a more benign energy-rich state, such activity might pass for nothing more than normal enterprise. But under U.N. sanctions, this setup would translate into a constant fount of pro-Iranian lobbying pressure, and incentives to cheat, within a slew of U.N. member states.

A new country survey of Iran from the U.S. Department of Energy helps illustrate the problem. Along with Iran's $100 billion, 25-year bargain with China to develop natural gas, there are deals either signed or in the offing with the following list of countries: France, Turkey, Pakistan, India, Greece, Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Ukraine, Armenia, Norway, Kuwait, Turkmenistan and Iraq. Projects on the table range from huge oil and gas field investments, to pipelines, oil swaps and Indian service contracts. And for the blame-America-first crowd, the survey even mentions that "a foreign subsidiary of Halliburton Co. reportedly reached agreement," along with an Iranian partner, to help develop some of Iran's natural gas fields.

Tallied against the findings of congressional inquiries, and of the U.N.'s own probe into Oil for Food, Iran's current and would-be business partners include some of the most seasoned smugglers and veteran cheats of the Iraq sanctions experience. To be sure, democracies such as India, Australia, the U.S. and France have investigated at least some of the officially documented allegations of Iraq sanctions-busting among their own citizens. Many of the chart-topping violators, notably Russia and China, have done no such thing. Damascus -- Tehran's chief terror partner -- served as a thruway for billions of dollars worth of Saddam's U.N.-prohibited traffic in oil, military imports and cash. Significantly, Iran itself enjoyed a bustling trade in forbidden Iraqi oil during the era of U.N. sanctions on Saddam -- with Iranian smuggling boats plying the coastlines of the Gulf. There is no reason to expect Iran's smugglers would do any less on behalf of their own country.

Who at the U.N., exactly, would stop violations of its sanctions, should these be imposed? On the Security Council, veto-wielding Russia -- now counseling "patience" -- has already stressed its opposition to sanctions on Iran, with China slipstreaming along. Let's just pass by France without further comment. And among those now angling for one of the 10 rotating seats on the Security Council is Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez. In his recent tours of the world's thugocracies Mr. Chavez has reportedly garnered a boost from China for his U.N. bid, as well as a medal and the promise of a $4 billion investment in Venezuela's oil fields -- from Iran.

As for the U.N. Secretariat, which would be involved in administering any U.N. sanctions, if staffers have learned anything from the multibillion dollar Oil for Food scandal, it is that inside the U.N.'s opaque and diplomatically immune bubble, there are no real penalties for dereliction, duplicity or even graft. Not a single U.N. staffer has been fired, let alone charged with a crime. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is due to step down at the end of this year; but his would be the presiding presence during the shaping of any U.N. sanctions on Iran, and his successor will inherit both the same bureaucracy and a General Assembly which -- if you believe Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown -- shot down an administrative reform package earlier this year mainly for the perverse pleasure of sticking a thumb in the eye of the U.S.

It is quite possible that -- after years of delay and dithering by the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, the European Union and the U.S. itself -- there is no initiative that will by now stop Iran short of direct military force. But whatever the solution, it is clearly the U.S. that will have to do the bulk of the cajoling, prodding and backroom bargaining to put together any coalition both able and willing, in whatever way necessary, to get the job done. That is a challenge urgent and daunting enough, without trying to drag along the entire baggage of the U.N.

Ms. Rosett is a journalist in residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


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