Iran: no place for cowboy diplomacy

Iran: no place for cowboy diplomacy

There are two extreme views of the recently concluded Tehran agreement between Brazil, Iran and Turkey to transfer 1,200kg of low-enriched uranium from Iran to Turkey in return for the supply of 120kg of enriched uranium for the Tehran Research Reactor from the so-called Vienna group (comprising France, Russia, the US and the International Atomic Energy Agency).

One view, prevalent in the global South, holds that this deal marks the emergence of a new world order where countries such as Brazil and Turkey that are elected members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and also members of the Group of Twenty are likely to play an increasing role in resolving issues that the traditional powers—the five permanent and unelected members of UNSC (P-5)—have been unable to address effectively.

The other view, predictably evident in the global North, argues that the Brazilian-Turkish initiative is, at best, naïve and, at worst, a deliberate effort to create an anti-West alliance and cock a snook at the valiant efforts of the P-5-led efforts to bring Iran to task for the reported violations of its nuclear commitments. As always, the reality lies between these two extremes.

While it is true that both Brazil and Turkey have been more assertive in the international arena on issues well beyond their borders (recall Ankara’s initiatives on Afghanistan, West Asia and even in the Horn of Africa, as well as Brasilia’s outreach on climate change and the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), they have also been cautious in their approach and have sought to work closely with the P-5. The Tehran agreement is not a radical new proposal and resembles the earlier agreement that Iran has discussed with the Vienna group since October 2009.

Moreover, Brazil in particular has kept the US, Russia and France informed at the highest levels about the Tehran agreement, indicating that it was willing to work closely with the P-5 to resolve the ongoing stalemate. Had there been an anti-Western sentiment, the contours of the Tehran deal would have looked very different: Brazil might have offered to supply the enriched uranium directly, instead of reiterating that it be supplied by the Vienna group (as was envisaged in the original agreement discussed between Iran and the Vienna group).

In contrast, the response of the P-5 to the Tehran agreement—announcing a new draft UNSC resolution with a new round of sanctions the very next day—is not only short-sighted, but also reflects an anti-South attitude. This announcement was partly driven by the need for the Barack Obama administration to look tough at home, as well as to provide an alternative to the recent clamour by the Opposition in the US and by one of its closest allies—Israel—for military action against Iran.

While the draft resolution is unlikely to convince domestic opponents and allies of Obama’s toughness, it is also unlikely to affect either Iran’s behaviour or its enrichment programme, quite simply because the sanctions have been significantly watered down to accommodate the interests of Russia and China. Worse, these sanctions are likely to be passed by a majority of the 15-member UNSC rather than unanimously—as is generally the norm. Brazil and Turkey, along with Lebanon (also an elected UNSC member), would find it difficult to support a resolution that dismisses the Tehran agreement altogether. In this light, a resolution passed by the majority will lack credibility. The failure to effectively impose these sanctions will only further signal the growing weakness of the P-5 in UNSC.

What is abundantly clear is that to effectively address the crucial issue of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, there will have to be a combined effort of the West and key non-Western powers. Neither one can be successful on its own.

W. Pal Sidhu is vice-president of programmes at the EastWest Institute, New York. He writes on strategic affairs every fortnight

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