At the UN, the United States is continuing its quixotic bid for another round of sanctions against Iran, even while U.S. officials know that no set of sanctions is likely to achieve its intended goal of persuading or forcing Iran to halt its nuclear program.
But several countries, including Brazil and Turkey, are trying to head off sanctions and to broker a deal that might allow productive talks to restart.
This weekend, President Lula of Brazil will visit Iran to meet with President Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders. Lula will be in Tehran Sunday, at the same time that Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan will be visiting. In the past, the Turks have offered to salvage an October deal between Iran and the UN’s P5 +1 big powers according to which Iran agreed to send the bulk of its enriched uranium to Russia and France for reprocessing. Turkey has offered its soil for the deal, seeking to overcome Iranian fears of handing its uranium to Russia, in an effort to get the October accord back on track. After initially agreeing to the October deal, Iran reneged, and the deal fell victim to the poisonous internal politics of post-election Iran.
According to Reuters, the United States is mildly skeptical of the Brazil-Turkish initiative. The service quotes a U.S. official saying, “I think we would view the Lula visit as perhaps the last big shot at engagement.” At the same time, however, Secretary of State Clinton called the Turkish foreign minister to throw cold water on the diplomatic effort by Turkey and Brazil, both of which oppose sanctions against Iran. Says Reuters:
“U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke by telephone with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and argued that Iran shows no sign of ceasing uranium enrichment as required by several Security Council resolutions.”
The Associated Press is much blunter, saying that Washington is trying to head off the Turkish-Brazilian initiative:
“The Obama administration moved Thursday to head off a joint Turkish-Brazilian effort that could help Iran avoid new United Nations sanctions over its suspect nuclear program.
“Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered a blunt message to Turkey's foreign minister, telling him that Iran is not serious about accepting international demands to prove its nuclear program peaceful. She said Tehran must face fresh penalties unless it does a quick about-face and complies.
“Clinton will likely give the same message to Brazil's foreign minister ahead of a weekend visit to Tehran by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. U.S. officials think Iran will use the trip to try to sabotage their efforts to draft new U.N. Security Council sanctions. Turkey and Brazil are members of the council and are opposed to new sanctions.”
It’s as if the United States is so intent on installing sanctions on Iran – with President Obama speaking yesterday to President Medvedev of Russia and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council huddling yesterday in talks that Washington insists are urgent – that it won’t allow an actual diplomatic process to go forward!
Earlier this week, writing for IPS, Farideh Farhi of the University of Hawaii, one of the smartest observers of Iran, wrote that despite all the rhetoric surrounding Ahmadinejad’s recent visit to the UN, it’s not at all impossible that talks might get back on track, adding that the European Union might be getting involved:
“Despite the posturing, the content of Ahmadeinjad's talk in New York was focused less on religious sermonising and more on a critique of the conduct of nuclear weapons-states. This, combined with the dinner given by Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki for members of the U.N. Security Council, has led to renewed speculation in Iran about the possible revival of last fall's proposal to transfer much of Iran's low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad in exchange for supplies of 20-percent enriched uranium for Tehran's Research Reactor.
“The government appears focused on reviving the proposal with the help of mediation by Brazil and Turkey, whose leaders are expected in Tehran at the same time in the coming days.
“Reports that the European Union's foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton, who held talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Brussels Monday, is pushing for direct talks with Iran has fuelled speculation that a new attempt at jumpstarting nuclear talks between Iran and P5+1 group is in the offing.
“Davutoglu, who himself called for reviving the swap proposal during a visit last month to Washington, has in turn proposed to host talks between Ashton and Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili. According to Davutoglu, Iran has welcomed the idea and is awaiting Ashton's reply.”
Curiously, the New America Foundation’s Steve Clemons seems agitated about Lula’s visit to Tehran, and he wrote a piece in his uberblog, The Washington Note, warning Lula not to meddle:
“President Lula's trip to Iran and his enthusiasm about injecting himself as a broker between Iran and the P5+1 countries (the UN Security Council Permanent Members of the US, Russia, China, the UK, and France in addition to Germany) is fraught with serious dangers for his legacy and for Brazil's aspirations to be accommodated in the world's most powerful institutions. …
“Lula's well-meaning efforts to defuse one of the world's tensest, building crises may result in convincing Iran that it has a political back door out of the increasingly tough wall that the US is trying to assemble around Iran with the support of China, Russia, Europe, Japan, and many of the other nations that participated in the recent Nuclear Security Summit and who are key players in the current Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty review underway now in New York.
“Giving Iran a back door would seriously aggravate American policymakers who have enough problems at the moment communicating resolve to Iran's leadership.”
In fact, the United States ought to be encouraging Brazil and Turkey to move forward, and it ought to drop the absurdly misguided push for new sanctions at the UN. As I recently wrote in The Nation:
“To regain the high ground, President Obama must once again emphasize his readiness to talk with Iran on any and all issues. To calm the waters at home, he should take pains to emphasize that the problem with Iran is not an immediate crisis—that Iran does not have a bomb; that it is at least several years from acquiring one, even if that's what it intends to do; and that even if it does plan to acquire a bomb, Iran has developed neither a warhead nor a missile that can deliver such a weapon. Obama should explore creative ways to revive the deal that was signed last October, perhaps via intermediaries like Turkey; indeed, during the early May UN conference on nuclear nonproliferation, Ahmadinejad reiterated Iran's acceptance of the deal, and both Turkey and Brazil are offering to mediate a renewal of the October accord. In addition, Obama should signal that ultimately he is prepared to accept Iran's right to enrich uranium, under appropriate IAEA safeguards. (So far, Obama has said that Iran has the right to peaceful use of nuclear energy, but he has never acknowledged its right to enrichment as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.) And he'll have to rally US allies, along with Russia and China, for a long and frustrating diplomatic adventure, with more false starts and roadblocks to come.”