International Push for Iran Sanctions Is Too Little, Too Late

It's doubtful more sanctions will persuade Iran to stop the project which is the source of immense national pride.

A diplomatic turnaround - however cautious, slow and weak - was made Wednesday with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's announcement that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, including China, have agreed to discuss a new round of sanctions against Iran.

On Thursday a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry qualified that statement, noting that Beijing opposes Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons but did not give its approval for new sanctions.

Either way, the new sanctions have yet to be agreed upon or finalized, and the potential measures do not include the kind of tools that could affect a change in Iranian policy.

Iranian shipping companies will not be blacklisted nor the international assets of Iran frozen, and oil or gas shipments from the Islamic Republic will not be cut, after these proposals were all rejected by Russia or China. It is more accurate to characterize the potential sanctions as a comprehensive warning against doing business with Tehran.

Its omissions cannot come as consolation to those concerned about Iran's development of nuclear technology that could produce weapons of mass destruction.

Still, Wednesday's feat - which must still pass a Security Council vote - is significant in incorporating both Russia and China among those nations which see an Iranian nuclear weapon as a threat, and which are willing to cooperate on finding a solution. Months of negotiation and pressure led by Washington have resulted in a more unified international community even if there is not full consensus over how to confront Tehran.

The accord reached by the Security Council members should give the Barack Obama administration the support needed to impose further sanctions of its own against Iran, and possibly convince several European countries to join the effort, even if only partially.

On the other hand, the fact remains that Iran has been under sanctions for three decades and still managed to develop a formidable technological infrastructure for nuclear power. It's doubtful another round of sanctions will persuade Iran to stop its project, viewed within the country as part of its national defense apparatus and the source of immense national pride.

Absent full agreement on implementing strict sanctions - and presuming that either an Israeli or U.S. military option is unrealistic - it is essential that alongside sanctions, pathways must be found for dialogue with Tehran. The U.S. president believes the window is still open, and he is willing to pursue negotiations at any time.

And Iran, despite the strident tone it takes against the West, has itself not forgone the principle of negotiation. It is possible that China and Russia joining the group of nations threatening sanctions could serve as a springboard to talks.

Having led the international awareness campaign over the Iranian nuclear threat, Israel should be pleased with the current turnaround, even if its results are significantly lower than what it had hoped. At the same time, Israel's call for global cooperation against Iran requires it too act as part of the international community in its policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians and the peace process.