Whatever your opinion of Iran's nuclear case, one thing is clear: Tehran is doing much to undermine its own case by its inept diplomacy.
As Iran's top nuclear negotiator visits China in the context of intense U.S. pressure on China to fall in line and continuing Israeli threats of aggression against Iran and rising U.S. threats and arms stockpiling in the region around Iran, the question arises:
Might Iran decide to take advantage of China's delicately balanced diplomatic support by offering China something it can present to the world as "progress?"
I posed the same question last fall when Ahmadinejad visited another diplomatic supporter, Turkey. Then, as seems to be Tehran's style, it proved unwilling to offer its supporter any help. Eventually, just daring the West to take action may well cause Iran great harm. With Beijing, Ankara, Brazilia, Moscow, and perhaps Tokyo all trying to hold open the door for Tehran's graceful exit from a costly showdown with an increasingly belligerent Washington, one wonders when Tehran might learn to avoid dropping rocks on its own feet.
Despite Western propaganda about Iran the "nuclear rogue state" (a myth most recently propagated by the highly biased New York Times), in fact it is hard to make a case that Tehran has done anything illegal on the nuclear front. A few details are debatable but it has essentially adhered scrupulously to the letter (albeit not the spirit) of the law, in stark contrast to Israel, which truly is a nuclear rogue. Thus, Iran does not have to play hardball and, indeed, will likely be seen by historians as having harmed its own cause enormously by doing so. It risks disaster, but even if it wins, given the strength of its case that it is only doing what it has a right to do and given the fact that its international status is improving on other grounds as a result of the rise of the Shi'a in Iraq and Israel's endless series of self-inflicted image problems, there is a much easier road to international fame than baiting the Western bull. It is Iran's misfortune that its politicians demonstrate so little skill at diplomacy.
So the question remains: while in China, will they once again go out of their way to slap their own friends in the face?
Gloating to the world by putting words into Beijing's mouth that it "supports the Iranian position" is hardly the way either to impress the world or please its Chinese supporters.