IThe United States and European Union are stepping up pressure on Iran. In his State of the Union address, President Obama declared, "Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal."
EU is also dialing up its pressure on Iran. One day before the U.S. President's State of the Union address, in an effort to starve Tehran's nuclear program funding, EU's 27 foreign ministers announced that the European Union will freeze the assets of Iran's central bank in Europe and ban the importation of Iranian oil to EU countries. The EU sanctions also block European countries from exporting petrochemical equipment and technology to Iran or trading precious metals with the Islamic Republic.
In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner welcomed the EU decision, calling it "another strong step in the international effort to dramatically increase the pressure on Iran." "The Tehran regime is more isolated than ever before," President Obama told lawmakers from both chambers of the Congress, "the world community has overcome its divisions and was now united on how to check Iran's nuclear ambitions."
To stress their resolve and showcase their military strength, the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, flanked by British and French warships, passed through the Strait of Hormuz last week, in an open defiance of Tehran's warning that Washington and NATO must keep their naval forces out of the Gulf.
In the real world, this means that the U.S. and its allies are preparing to go to war against Tehran, while an economic war is already on the way. And Iran's threat to close the Strait of Hormuz to international navigation should not be taken lightly: more than 15 million barrels of oil-roughly 49 percent of all seaborne traded oil - pass through Hormuz daily. "The escalating confrontation is fraught with risks," warns Matthew Pennington of Huffington Post, "of rising energy prices, global financial instability, and potential military activity to keep the strait open."
"Both sides are engaged in heavy posturing now," says Reva Bhalla at the U.S.-based global security firm Strafor, "Iran is focused on highlighting its deterrence tools in the Persian Gulf. This, of course, increases the risk of miscalculation."
The question is: Is Iran truly isolated? Or, as stated by President Obama, has the world community really "overcome its divisions and is now united" on containing Iran's nuclear ambitions?
The answer is: Not really.
To start with, two major Asian powers, China and India, together are buying approximately 40 percent of Iran's oil exports - roughly 1 million barrels a day. And China last year bought 30 percent more Iranian oil than in 2010, an average of 557,000 barrels a day.
China buys more than 20 percent of all Iranian oil exports. Beijing has formally told visiting U.S. Treasury Secretary Geithner that China will not support U.S. sanctions against Iran. As the permanent member of U.N. Security Council, China also has the veto power over any U.N. decision to impose sanctions on Iran.
As for India, Iran accounts for 12 percent of India's oil imports. And New Delhi, noted Sujay Mehdudia of The Hindu, "is asserting that it will not be dictated by any individual country or bloc for imposing sanctions against Iran. India is understood to have strongly conveyed that it would continue to 'fully source' its crude oil requirement from Tehran."
And New Delhi, Beijing and Tehran are looking for new ways to make payments for the purchase of Iranian oil. "India," reports Pepe Escobar of Asia Times, "will start paying Iranian oil with gold via Indian state bank UCO. Beijing may also turn to gold. Needless to say, both Delhi and Beijing are major gold producers and holders of gold assets."
Then there is Russia. Moscow has made it clear that Russia opposes U.S. and European sanctions against Iran, even if Tehran presses ahead with uranium enrichment. "Regardless of any conditions, be those the conditions in which the Iranian nuclear program expands or others, we are against the application of sanctions against Iran," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russia's state-run Itar-Tass news agency.
With the backing of Beijing, New Delhi, and Moscow, Tehran is hardly "more isolated than ever before." The regime in Tehran is unlikely to bow down to the Western sanctions and pressure any time soon and confrontation and potential clashes will continue to brew in the Strait of Hormuz.
Xiaoxiong Yi is the director of Marietta College's China Program.