Speaking in Chinese on the Phoenix television program Yihu yidu tan (Tiger Talk), Carnegie’s Lora Saalman explained that because of the dual-use nature of nuclear technology, the United States is concerned about Iran’s intentions and its capacity to build a nuclear weapon. Saalman maintained that U.S. military deployment in the Persian Gulf is, in part, a reaction to this threat, aimed at demonstrating U.S. conventional deterrence capabilities and commitment in the region. While this deployment plays a function in reassuring Israel, it does not necessarily mean that the United States intends to use force against Iran. Had the United States made the decision to use military means to resolve the Iranian nuclear dispute, Saalman added, it would likely already have done so.
Instead, she noted the United States is trying to utilize diplomatic means and negotiations first. Despite reports coming out of Iran, the Unites States government has been focused on exercising restraint and avoiding war. Saalman maintained that the statement of U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta best frames this approach, as he maintained that Iran has not yet made the decision to develop a nuclear weapon. Ultimately, Washington wants to avoid the mistakes it made in 2003 with the Iraq nuclear issue.
Saalman asserted that given China’s independent foreign policy, it is difficult for the United States to lobby China to converge with U.S. perspectives on the region. However, China has its own reasons for keeping its distance from Iran as it tries to diversify its oil imports and minimize exposure to destabilizing trends. From this perspective, the United Staets and China at times have converging interests that could serve as the basis of cooperation. Overall, China’s chief role is likely to be serving as an intermediary to facilitate the negotiation effort.