Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is visiting China and is expected to lobby Beijing to take a tougher stand against Tehran’s controversial nuclear program especially if the recent sanctions on Iran would not influence its behavior. China backed the UN Security Council resolution last month imposing sanctions on transfer of sensitive nuclear and weapons technology and materials to Iran and expected to be in place till Iran refuses to eschew its nuclear ambitions. Russia and China have consistently argued for negotiated settlement with Iran and whittled down language of the sanctions essentially rendering it ineffective.
Tehran argues that its intentions are peaceful and its nuclear program civilian in nature. However, its President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s call to wipe Israel “off the map,” hosting conference belittling the holocaust, and secretive deals with disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan has increased fears in Tel Aviv about Tehran’s true intentions.
A recent report in the British press leaked plans for a pre-emptive attack being prepared by Israel along the lines of its attack on Iraq’s nuclear facilities in 1981. Tehran hopes that “China does not want to see a nuclear-armed Iran” but say that the challenge is “to preserve China’s resolve” in dealing with “Iranian compliance.”
Ever since bilateral relations were set up 15 years ago, two other prime ministers had visited China and bilateral trade has grown to USD 3 billion and is expected to reach USD 5 billion by 2008. But China has a much larger economic relationship with Iran making up 12% of its oil imports. However, Tel Aviv believes that “energy supplies are China’s main priority” and thinks that a nuclear armed Iran may spark a global nuclear weapons development drive and also seriously destroy regional peace. Since West Asia has the highest oil deposits fuelling the world economy, regional conflict can seriously affect oil supplies and drive up crude oil rates and greatly affect global economy. This is the angle that Israel is pitching and this is the angle that India is also worried about.
Olmert also has a selfish interest to get some sort of a Chinese “declaration of good intent” to bolster his public standing at home eroded by corruption scandals, anger over the failed Lebanon invasion, and a diplomatic stalemate on resolution of differences with Palestine leaders. Interestingly, Olmert is visiting Beijing right after Iranian top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani’s visit to Beijing. Larijani seems to have told Chinese interlocutors that his country is still committed to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and therefore entitled to the benefits of this treaty which includes nuclear enrichment. He warned that his country’s position could change if there are continued threats meaning that they could withdraw from the treaty if pushed.
India also shares the same concerns of stopping further nuclear weapons development especially in West Asia. New Delhi is on record saying that it supports Tehran’s rights to benefits of NPT but also faults it for being secretive about its nuclear program and transactions with the disgraced Khan network. India is also concerned that instability in the region means higher crude oil prices and serious damage to its ambitious plan of achieving 9%-10% economic growth. India needs such growth to find jobs for its large youth population failing which it fears growing socialist and communist movements such as Naxalism and Maoism may be inviting to young, unemployed, and disenfranchised population.