The message seems to have gotten through to North Korea; we have seen no nuclear weapons test, despite its probable ability to do so. China, the transit route for most of what goes enters and leaves North Korea, understands that were North Korea to cross this red line, it would risk US military reprisal and possibly lead Japan and/or South Korea to rethink their nuclear weapons policy. None of these outcomes is in China' s strategic interest.
Unfortunately, there is no country in a position to influence Iran to the extent that China can influence North Korea. The situation is made more difficult by the fact that oil prices are already at a record high, while US ground forces are busy in Iraq, thus reducing the credibility of US military threats to Iran.
Iran's leaders, though, would be unwise to proceed with an unconstrained nuclear program and discount the possibility of US military action.
This said, a US preventive strike at Iran' s nuclear-related installations is not in the interest of either country. The potential for loss of life, for Iranian retaliation and for global economic disruption is high.
Both countries -- indeed, the world -- would be better served by a diplomatic outcome in which Iran accepted severe limits on any independent uranium enrichment activity it could undertake and agreed to place all of its nuclear-related facilities under highly intrusive international inspection in exchange for economic benefits and security assurances.
Better yet would be if Iran turned to Russia or the International Atomic Energy Agency for uranium-generated electrical power. Direct US-Iran talks should be convened if they are required to bring about any such agreement.
Iran's calculations will not be affected by what happens between the US and India. Rather, Iranian policy will be shaped by its domestic politics, by the ability of the international community to present a united front and by the willingness of the US to put forth a reasonable diplomatic offer against the backdrop of sanctions and potential military strikes should diplomacy fail. The stakes could hardly be greater. It is Iran, not India, that we should all be worried about.
Richard Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Copyright: Project Syndicate