New U.N. Sanctions on Iran: Who’s Isolated Now?

Despite a display of global arm-twisting, the Obama administration has fallen short in its latest effort to isolate Iran.

It’s true the U.S. was able on June 8 to round up 12 of 15 votes in the United Nations Security Council to impose a fourth round of sanctions on the Islamic Republic.  Only Brazil and Turkey, countries that had been working on a solution to the U.S.-Iran crisis, voted no and strongly condemned the resolution,1 whereas Lebanon abstained.

But while the U.S. promotes the sanctions resolution as proof that its approach to Iran has world support, it arrogantly disregards the fact that, the day before the vote, the 118 countries of the Non-Aligned Movement reaffirmed their support for Iran’s right to develop nuclear power for peaceful energy purposes.2  Furthermore, as the EU considers new unilateral sanctions on Iran, on June 13 the Parliamentary Union of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, representing 57 Islamic countries, strongly condemned the sanctions resolution.3

And if the U.S. expected the new sanctions to deepen political divisions within Iran itself, it had precisely the opposite effect.  The sanctions vote came just four days before the first anniversary of Iran’s controversial presidential election, but powerful opposition backer Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani chose that day to urge Iranian unity against the sanctions.4

But above all, the U.S. has clearly exposed its dishonesty and duplicity in its standoff with Iran in the eyes of the international community when it instigated the new sanctions shortly after the Tehran Declaration of May 17 between Iran, Turkey, and Brazil, widely greeted as a historic breakthrough.

At the heart of the open dispute is whether Iran’s program to enrich uranium is, as Iran maintains, intended for the development of nuclear power for peaceful energy purposes, or, as the U.S charges, a cover for developing a nuclear bomb.  Iran, an early signatory Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, has pledged not to develop nuclear weapons.

Back in October 2009, Russia, France, the U.S., and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) proposed Iran send 1,200 kilograms of its 3.5% low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia, in exchange for fuel rods of 19.5% enriched uranium for the medical research reactor in Tehran, a facility built in 1967 with U.S. support.

That deal was supposed to ease U.S. fears that Iran could further enrich its LEU in quantities sufficient to build a bomb.  For Iran, the proposal didn’t require the suspension of its enrichment program, the principal demand of the Bush administration.

But when Iran attempted to gain assurance it would actually receive the promised fuel, Washington refused to negotiate, and falsely accused Iran of opposing the proposal altogether.

Then, on May 17, the leaders of Brazil, Turkey, and Iran unveiled the Tehran Declaration, under which Iran would send 1,200 kilograms of LEU to Turkey.  If no enriched fuel rods were provided within one year, Turkey would return the LEU on Iran’s demand.

This second proposal was strongly promoted by President Barack Obama himself, who in April sent Brazilian President Lula and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan a letter urging them to persuade Iran to agree precisely with such a transfer of its LEU to Turkey.5

Yet, the day after the proposal was announced, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dismissed it out of hand and instead unveiled a draft for a new set of U.N. sanctions, which was rushed to be voted on in the Security Council, in a deliberate move to sabotage the prospect of negotiations with Iran.

The resolution itself is the height of hypocrisy.  The five permanent Security Council members that drafted it — France, Russia, China, the U.S., and U.K.– all possess nuclear weapons and are all in violation of Article 6 of the NPT, which calls on nuclear weapons member states to agree to a timetable for disarmament.

The resolution states that one of the justifications for imposing new sanctions is that Iran has not suspended the enrichment process necessary for it to develop nuclear power plants, which is Iran’s inalienable right under the NPT.

The resolution also describes the sanctions as a step toward creating a nuclear-free Middle East, even though the only reason the Middle East is not nuclear-free is that U.S.-backed Israel has amassed some 200 nuclear weapons.

For the past seven years, the IAEA has conducted the most intensive inspections in its history on Iran’s nuclear sites, and yet has not found one shred of evidence of a weapons program.  But that may not be the point.

Longtime U.S. diplomat Dennis Ross, now President Obama’s point man for Iran on the National Security Council, recently co-authored a book on U.S. Middle East policy in which he states, “Tougher policies — either militarily or meaningful containment — will be easier to sell internationally and domestically if we have diplomatically tried to resolve our differences with Iran in a serious and credible fashion.”

In other words, diplomacy is good if its failure makes it easier to win support for an actual military attack.

But what happens if diplomacy threatens to result in a peaceful resolution, as proven possible by the Tehran Declaration?

From the perspective of Washington, faced with the emergence of Iran as an independent regional power in the oil-rich Middle East, that might not be seen as such a good development after all, especially if Iran acquires the support of the majority of the world’s nations.


1  “Brazil Slams UN Security Council Sanctions Resolution against Iran,” Campaign Against Sanctions & Military Intervention in Iran, 9 June 2010.

2  “NAM Renews Support for Iran,” Press TV, 8 June 2010.

3  “OIC Parliamentary Union Berates UNSC for Anti-Iran Resolution,” Bernama, 14 June 2010.

4  “Iran’s Rafsanjani Urges Unity against Sanctions,” AFP, 12 June 2010.

5  “Obama’s Letter to Lula Regarding Brazil-Iran-Turkey Nuclear Negotiations” (dated 20 April 2010), made public by Política Externa Brasileira.

Abbas Edalat, Professor of Computer Science and Mathematics Imperial College London, is a writer, activist and founder of the Campaign Against Sanctions & Military Intervention in Iran (CASMII) (  Phil Wilayto is an anti-war activist based in Richmond, Virginia, a member of CASMII’s Board of Directors and author of In Defense of Iran: Notes from a U.S. Peace Delegation’s Journey through the Islamic Republic.

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