I didn’t really follow the Obama China trip, but it did seem strange to me that the president went to China without even the apparent desire to yield a substantive policy achievement. Still, James Fallows has been arguing at great length that there were a number of small policy successes, and Matthew Yglesias co-signs for the argument somewhat. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t been following China policy closely that this strikes me as evidence for Fallows’ contention:

Two weeks before President Obama visited China, two senior White House officials traveled to Beijing on a “special mission” to try to persuade China to pressure Iran to give up its alleged nuclear weapons program.

If Beijing did not help the United States on this issue, the consequences could be severe, the visitors, Dennis Ross and Jeffrey Bader, both senior officials in the National Security Council, informed the Chinese.

The Chinese were told that Israel regards Iran’s nuclear program as an “existential issue and that countries that have an existential issue don’t listen to other countries,” according to a senior administration official. The implication was clear: Israel could bomb Iran, leading to a crisis in the Persian Gulf region and almost inevitably problems over the very oil China needs to fuel its economic juggernaut, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

(To be fair, Fallows claimed vindication on this front as well.) The partial outcome of Ross & Bader’s argument is the IAEA’s censure of Iran. The Times correctly notes that nothing in the Chinese & Russian IAEA vote indicates that they’ll go along with a multilateral sanctions package at the U.N. Security Council — which is the unmistakable direction the Obama administration is moving. Still, it would be a dramatic turnaround if both countries, having seen both clear Iranian obstructionism and a year-long unrequited good faith effort at outreach from the Obama administration despite fervent domestic criticism, decide to oppose a sanctions package at the Security Council. Instead, I’d expect that Amb. Rice will consult with both nations heavily before putting forward such a package in order to secure at least their abstention.

Oh right, the China trip. I guess that there isn’t really sufficient evidence that trip itself contributed to the IAEA vote, as opposed to the preceding Ross-Bader push. But it didn’t hurt! International relations win.

Update: Of relevance to this question is an administration conference call about the IAEA Board of Governors vote. I wasn’t invited to be on it — the effrontery! — but I’ve got the transcript, and there are some signs from it that the administration expects Chinese and Russian support on further punitive steps on Iran. Two excerpts. One:

QUESTION: Yes, I’d like to know, though the Russians and Chinese supported the resolution, have there been indications that they would go a step further and support sanctions?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I think at this stage, I mean, I’d let – President Medvedev has spoken to this publicly, and I’d let the parties speak for themselves. I think it is significant, as I’ve said before, that both of those parties strongly supported this step in the Board of Governors. I think they, like the rest of the P-5+1, are fully committed to a two-track strategy. And we intend to take this very steadily and step by step, but I think their commitment is clear.

And two:

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: …What was interesting was the engagement of both [China and Russia] at the local level. There was, for instance, Chinese language incorporated in the draft that was voted on today, so they had certainly a degree of ownership of the actual document that was produced. And both countries did some very useful lobbying among the 35 members of the Board of Governors, so it really was, in terms of the retail end of it, very much a collective effort.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman

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