US and China on Iran...Agreement in Spirit

President Obama has not come away with any commitments from the Chinese on how to deal with Iran during his visit to China this week, according to administration officials.

“I would not say that we got an answer today from the Chinese, nor did we expect one on the subject,” National Security Council official Jeffrey Bader told reporters in Beijing Tuesday.

But Bader and other officials made clear the Chinese have been on board for some time with the overall international approach to Iran, led by the permanent five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, or P5+1.

“I’m confident that whatever direction we choose to go, we need to go, towards the end of the year, that the Chinese will remain part of the unified P5+1 front,”he said.

Chinese President Hu Jintao, however, is more immediately concerned about the threat of a nuclearized North Korea than he is about Iran; something he made clear in talks with Mr. Obama.

Part of the reason may be that with Iran, there are items that affect China’s own self-interest. The Chinese and Iran have strong ties in energy; China holds significant investments in both oil and gas in Iran.            

But with Iran’s recent admission of the existence of a uranium enrichment site outside of Tehran, the international community is growing more concerned that that could just be the tip of the iceberg. The UN Security Council is contemplating more sanctions and needs China to be on board.

While China may not go as far as imposing sanctions, the Obama administration was loathe to criticize; noting the US continues to have China’s support in tackling the issue, “[T]he President did talk to President Hu about the possibility…that we will not reach resolution of this issue and we may have to go to track two and greater pressure.”