Iran, the Brazil-Turkey Deal, and New Sanctions: What the Media Are Missing

Two documents are driving the Iran-related news these days: the agreement announced Monday on refueling the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) brokered by Brazil and Turkey and the draft “Elements” of a potential new Iran sanctions resolution agreed by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and circulated on Tuesday to the Council’s 10 non-permanent members.  Unfortunately, much of the media has misunderstood the relationship between these two documents.

Clearly, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rushed to announce the text of the draft “elements” for a new sanctions resolution to push back against the Brazil-Turkey nuclear deal and show the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — before which she was committed to appear to discuss the new U.S.-Russia “START” agreement — that Washington was still “in control” of the Iranian nuclear issue.  Her actions reflected considerable disregard, to say the least, for Brazilian and Turkish diplomatic efforts.  As Tehran University professor Seyed Mohammad Marandi said, “The United States just slapped Turkey and Brazil in the face and spit on them afterwards.”  (Mohammad went on to describe the United States as “throwing a tantrum.”)

Her actions may also have reflected a certain amount of dishonesty — we do not know what other word to use — on the Obama Administration’s part.  In the wake of the Brazil-Turkey deal, the Administration is once again requiring Iran’s suspension of all activities related to uranium enrichment to avoid the imposition of new sanctions.  As of Monday, the Administration’s position is that, even if Tehran carried out the steps specified in its agreement with Brazil and Turkey, new sanctions should be adopted unless Iran suspends enrichment activities.

But that had not been the Administration’s position since the Baradei proposal for refueling the TRR was first tabled in October.  From that point until this Monday, the Administration repeatedly indicated that Iranian acceptance of the Baradei proposal would preclude the imposition of further sanctions, at least until there had been further negotiations about the broader range of issues associated with the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.  At least in the near term, the avoidance of new sanctions was no longer linked to suspension.  (Senior British officials told us last fall that this was why, as a matter of policy, Her Majesty’s Government did not want to see the TRR deal go through — because it would then be practically impossible to sanction Iran over its continued refusal to abide by Security Council resolutions calling for suspension.)

Now that Tehran has accepted the main elements of the Baradei proposal — the transfer of 1,200 kilos of low-enriched uranium out of Iran in exchange for new fuel for the TRR — the United States has unilaterally changed the game.

Most of the Western media bought into Secretary Clinton’s narrative before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday — that Washington has regained the diplomatic upper hand, and the P-5 are ready to go forward with new sanctions.  We believe that the situation is much more complicated — and much riskier for the United States — than conventional wisdom currently allows.  Getting P-5 agreement on a substantially watered-down and incomplete draft sanctions resolution (more on that below) is one thing.  Getting P-5 agreement on scheduling that draft resolution for formal discussion and, ultimately, a vote in the Security Council is something else.  Ensuring nine affirmative votes for the resolution — and avoiding deep divisions in the Council — is something else again.

Brazil and Turkey — both non-permanent members of the Security Council — are already indicating that they are not about to roll over in the face of Secretary Clinton’s bluster.  Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoğlu says that Prime Minister Erdoğan will personally lobby his P-5 counterparts not to torpedo the Brazil-Turkey deal by prematurely passing a new sanctions resolution; Davutoğlu himself will work with the 10 non-permanent members.  We expect that Brazil will also be intensively involved in efforts to slow the sanctions train.  And, behind China’s statement of ongoing support for the two-track approach, Chinese sources are indicating that, while it may not be harmful to have the language of a new sanctions resolution ready to go in case the Brazil-Turkey deal falls apart, successful implementation of that deal could obviate the need for new sanctions.

With regard to a potential new sanctions resolution, the draft “elements” circulated to the full membership of the Security Council reflect — as we have been predicting for some time — major substantive concessions/surrenders by the Obama Administration.

  • To win Russian and Chinese support, Washington had to give up on any idea of a ban on new investment or other measures that might have impeded Iran’s ability to produce and export hydrocarbons.
  • The Administration had wanted a comprehensive embargo on arms sales to Iran, but had to settle for restrictions on transfers of a few specific categories of weapons systems.
  • The Administration had wanted a comprehensive ban on financial dealings with the Revolutionary Guards and Revolutionary Guards-affiliated entities, but had to settle for the application of previously authorized asset freezes and travel restrictions to specified Revolutionary Guards elements, to be identified in one of the annexes to a new resolution.  Tellingly, there is, at this point, no agreement among the Security Council’s permanent members regarding which Revolutionary Guards elements are to be included in the annex.
  • Contrary to some media reports, the draft language would not authorize forcible boarding of Iranian vessels on the high seas.

Flynt Leverett directs the Iran Project at the New America Foundation, where he is also a Senior Research Fellow.  Additionally, he teaches at Pennsylvania State University’s School of International Affairs.  Hillary Mann Leverett is CEO of Strategic Energy and Global Analysis (STRATEGA), a political risk consultancy.  In September 2010, she will also take up an appointment as Senior Lecturer and Senior Research Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs.  This article was first published in The Race for Iran on 19 May 2010.

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