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June 2, 2010

What the fuel swap means for a “new era in diplomacy”

As experts urge Western powers to consider the fuel swap proposal, here is an overview of what is at stake for some of the major powers involved, from special niacINsight correspondent Shawn A:

Brazilian ambitions to assert itself on the world stage — and its capacity to frustrate US efforts on Iran — took center stage last week in a nuclear deal sure to complicate the Obama administrations Iran policy. In an agreement hailed by the LA Times as possibly a “stunning” breakthrough, Iran agreed to send 1,200 kg of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Turkey to be stored and safeguarded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Although world powers have voiced skepticism about the value of this new deal, it is not at all clear that Obama’s efforts to pass a new round of sanctions will be successful. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, who mediated the agreement, has a significant vested interest in its success. Brazil has its own enrichment facility that it concealed for some time and wants to make sure that Iran’s nuclear rights aren’t inhibited and turned into a legally binding precedent that could be turned against them. President Lula, who was accompanied by 300 businesspeople to Tehran has increased trade with Iran under his term and is planning an even greater increase: from $1.2 billion to $10 billion.
With the Obama Administration committing its focus on the sanctions track of its “dual-track strategy” on Iran, Brazil stepped into the vacuum, seizing on the opportunity to gain prestige on the international stage. President Lula — the man who dropped out of the fourth grade to become a shoeshiner — has overcome a lifetime of obstacles and is even now being considered as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize next year. It is also believed that he seeks to be Secretary-General of the UN after his term expires after this year.
Turkey, whose exports to Iran have increased 800 percent under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, also has an interest in preventing sanctions. Turkey has been buying gas from the Islamic Republic below market prices. The Russians and Chinese who normally prefer to sit on the fence, will likely water down any resolution aimed at Iran. China views Iran as a matter of national energy security and sees sanctions as threatening the “stability” of its energy security. The Russians have stated that they only seek smart sanctions, and the non-permanent members of the UNSC (Brazil and Turkey included) oppose any push for further sanctions. On Tuesday India expressed support for Iran’s nuclear efforts and called sanctions “counter-productive.” The global South, the BRIC nations, the Non-Aligned Movement countries comprising of 172 countries are against further sanctions. Nearly all countries outside the G-20 oppose sanctions.
As we enter a post-Western world with emerging powers increasingly asserting their role on the world stage, it will become increasingly difficult to gain consensus on issues like Iran. Jorio Dauster, Brazil’s former ambassador to the European Union views the deal as a major foreign policy coup for Brazil. “In short, despite the crying of the traditional opponents, I see Brazil’s engagement with Iran as a win-win situation for Brazilian diplomacy. But it is evident that the ‘old boys’ are inconvenienced by this new kid who has arrived on the block and who is not asking for permission to use the bathroom.”
During the Cold War, nations that fell out of the Western camp gravitated toward the Eastern camp, and vice-versa. For nearly 20 years the United States has been the only option for developing nations. Turkey and Brazil, with emerging powers like Russia, India, and China have signaled the reemergence of binary global politics. A Plan B has once again entered the global equation, and the emerging powers have, as Pepe Escobar puts it, “said they didn’t want to go along with the American approach to solving the problem (sanctions) and were vehemently against the Israeli approach (bombs away).”
The success of this deal is not at all clear at this point, but if nothing else it ushered in a new era in international diplomacy. Sanctions are believed to only drive up oil prices, cause further instability among OPEC nations, allow Iran and Venezuela to profit more from the back door, and further exacerbate the global economic crisis. All of this poses a significant challenge to the Obama administration.
Faced with an increasingly difficult global climate in which an emerging multi-polar world restrains Washington’s ability to maneuver, President Obama must adopt his own maxim of “dealing with the world as it is,” and not as he wishes it to be. Sanctions must once again be seen as a means to an end, and not an end in itself. The politically unachievable demand that Iran suspend uranium enrichment is an ingredient for continued lack of progress. There is no clear formula to resolving Iran’s nuclear dispute, but any first step must include recognition on the part of Washington of the interests of emerging nations and a display of the ruthless pragmatism that Obama promised would characterize his foreign policy. President Erdoğan put it best, “This is the time to discuss whether we believe in the supremacy of law or the law of the supremes and superiors.”

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