Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Two Big Developments: Hillary Announces Start of Sanctions Push, Arab Poll Says Iran is Bigger Threat than Israel

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By Barry Rubin

It may well be that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has given the signal for the new phase of U.S. policy toward Iran. On December 14, she said that the engagement policy with Tehran hadn’t worked and now it needs to press for additional sanctions.

Either this is her attempt to lobby for a tougher line against other administration officials or it's the long-awaited start of the sanctions made necessary by the looming of the administration’s own end-of-the-year deadline to get a deal with Iran or impose more sanctions.

Trying to negotiate, she said, has "produced very little" so "additional pressure is going to be called for."

Her phrasing was interesting, almost as if she was taking a poke at rivals in the administration who are reluctant to take action. "I don't think anyone can doubt that our outreach has produced very little in terms of any kind of a positive response from the Iranians," Clinton said, as if daring someone in the White House to disagree?

So what is the administration going to do? Try to get the UN and EU to support more sanctions. Here the administration likes to claim that its popularity and patient (arguably too patient) coalition-building will bring broad support.

Yet there’s another development that shows the opposite may be true. An important meeting to discuss sanctions, set for December 22, has been postponed at China’s request. As an AP account put it:

“Russia in recent days has moved away from suggesting it would support [sanctions]. And recent statements from Chinese officials indicate that Beijing has not changed its traditional opposition to new sanctions. While Russia and China signed on to three previous sets of UN sanctions against Iran, they also forced their Western Security Council partners to water them down substantially.”

Note that the administration keeps claiming that Moscow and Peking are on board. We are going to see something quite different when the negotiations get serious in January and February.

Buried in a paragraph of an obscure article is explosively important news. A survey of people in 18 Arabic-speaking countries commissioned by a Qatari group—and not fully released yet-- found that a majority see Iran as a bigger threat to their security than Israel and one-third believing Iran is as big a threat as Israel.

This is of historic importance and, of course, reflects reality. This doesn’t mean the Arab attitude toward Israel is going to change drastically, but it does indicate that the real main demand of Arabs toward the West is not making instant Israel-Palestinian peace but protecting them from Iran’s extremist Islamist regime. Western policymakers should take note.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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