Good intentions lead to more controversy
As the Obama administration presses ahead for a new set of sanctions against Tehran, what began as good intentions may pave the road to more tensions.
Just as Iran sent a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency delineating the details of the Turkish-Brazilian deal, Iranian officials made it clear they will not stick to it if the Security Council adopts a new punitive resolution.
"If the US seeks adventure, either at the level of the Security Council or the (US) Congress, it has disrupted the entire efforts of Brazil and Turkey and the deal will be nullified," said Ali Larijani, the chairman and speaker of the Iranian parliament.
Larijani said Tehran could also review its policy of cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) if the deal breaks down.
While most of the Iranian resentment is directed at Washington, the Iranian president has also issued a veiled warning to Russia, which – in a marked departure from its usual stance – has supported the US drive for sanctions.
"Iran hopes for Russia's support of the Iranian-Turkish-Brazilian declaration of nuclear
fuel exchange," Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Sunday. "Iran and Russia are neighbors, and their relations have been traditionally friendly. Iran has never taken any steps against Russia, and the friendship is sincere."
"If I were in the position of the Russian authorities, I would've taken a more cautious approach," concluded Ahmadinejad.
Thanks but no thanks
The surprise agreement was intended as a diplomatic breakthrough to highlight Turkey’s and Brazil’s roles as international mediators. Instead, it turned into a diplomatic embarrassment, as the United States and other permanent members of the Security Council chose to ignore the deal and proceed with their deliberations.
Seeking to cushion the blow, US President Barrack Obama phoned his Turkish counterpart on Wednesday to express just how much he appreciated Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts.
According to the White House, the president acknowledged the efforts of Turkey and Brazil, but made it clear that the deal has not eased “the international community’s continuing and fundamental concerns about Iran’s overall nuclear program, as well as Iran’s failure to live up to its international obligations.” In addition, Obama indicated that negotiations on a new UN Security Council resolution will continue.
Bunch of fives
While Brazil and Turkey are still urging the UN Security Council to reject a proposal seeking harsher sanctions, the council’s five permanent members remain surprisingly unanimous on the need to press ahead. Both Russia and China, the usual holdouts on most Iran-related resolutions, have agreed to a draft resolution that would ban Iran from pursuing ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons, freeze assets of nuclear-related companies linked to the Revolutionary Guard, bar Iranian investment in activities such as uranium mining, and prohibit Iran from buying several categories of heavy weapons.
“It’s a victory for commonsense in that it does not mention the possibility of the use of force against Iran, nor does it suggest sanctions regarding energy that could harm the country's entire population," said Konstantin Kosachev, the chairman of the State Duma International Relations Committee.
“The fact that the positions of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council were brought much closer in the past few months is an important signal that, to my mind, Tehran heeded," said Kosachev.
However, since the deal between Iran, Turkey and Brazil was signed, the situation with the current unanimity on the new resolution seems to have become more complicated. Now, it seems, submitting the resolution could bring some surprises. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov – while on an official visit to Italy on Thursday – said he hoped a consensus could be reached on a draft UN sanctions resolution against Iran, Interfax news agency reported. The diplomat called on Tehran to send details of its proposed uranium swap to the IAEA as soon as possible.
Lavrov also stressed that UN Security Council talks on new sanctions against Iran should not interfere with talks on a new proposed fuel exchange deal with the Islamic Republic.
The deal would take 1,200 kilograms (about 2,600 pounds) of low-enriched uranium (3.5 per cent) out of Iran for a year and return higher-enriched uranium (20 per cent) destined for a medical research reactor in Tehran.
Much will depend on the content and the spirit of a letter that Iran is expected to submit to the International Atomic Energy Agency in the coming days reflecting its latest agreement with Turkey and Brazil.
“It’s a very important step,” said Russia’s Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin. “We and our partners will thoroughly study this letter."
Meanwhile, officials in Moscow stressed that sanctions against Iran would not put an end to the negotiating process. “Only the United States is a consistent advocate of pressure on Iran and tougher sanctions. Russia and China have supported, and still support, diplomatic ways to influence the Iranian leaders," said chairman of the international committee of Russia's Council of Federation upper parliament house, Mikhail Margelov.
While Russia continues to be on board for tougher sanctions, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed concerns about the US and EU plans to introduce new unilateral punitive measures.
"Unilateral sanctions, including exterritorial sanctions, would go beyond decisions agreed upon by the international community and would run counter to the principle of the supremacy of international law guaranteed by the UN Charter," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Defiant to the end
Meanwhile, Iranian officials decried the drive for another set of sanctions as an example of the US efforts to undermine the Iranian leadership.
Speaking to Iranian station Press TV, Vice President and the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, suggested the proposal was merely a reactionary response to a deal in which Iran agreed to ship much of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey.
"They are always looking for excuses and pretexts to exert political pressure on Iran," he said. "The main aim and purpose is to really divert Iran into confrontation with the West, while we have always stated that we are not after confrontation – we are after co-operation."