Washington, DC – “Had Turkey’s and Brazil’s efforts been endorsed by the leading powers of the world, relations with Iran might have been put on a [healthier] track whereby Iranian clerical leaders could agree to further steps that would eventually lead to the normalization of relations between Iran and the West,” stated professor Mustafa Kibaroglu of Bilken University in Ankara, speaking at a Woodrow Wilson Center event on the May 2010 Brazilian-Turkish Tehran Declaration. Kibaroglu was joined by panelists Monica Herz of the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Ambassador Craig Kelly, Nizar Messari of Al Akhawayn University in Morocco, and National Iranian American Council President Trita Parsi.
In discussing how to negotiate with Iran, the panelists evaluated the efficacy of sanctions as a tool to influence Iranian policy. “Tehran is not less likely today than it was one year ago to build a nuclear weapon,” Kibaroglu stated. “[Sanctions] are not highly effective in thwarting the [nuclear] ambitions of the Iranians who are accustomed to living under sanctions for more than three decades.”
The panelists discussed how Brazil and Turkey, as emerging powers, have a vital role to play in negotiating with Iran. Despite the interests and tactical differences between the United States, Brazil and Turkey in each state’s approach toward nuclear negotiations with Iran, panelists agreed that Brazil and Turkey’s role as interlocutors is important in engaging Iran. Ambassador Craig Kelly emphasized that “the U.S. stance was not ever to discourage Brazil or Turkey from trying to exert influence on this issue…we actually welcome the increased globalization of countries…out of the strong conviction that increasing internationalization…is profoundly in the U.S. interest.”
Parsi stressed that the pressure Congress put on the Obama administration to impose sanctions on Iran left the administration with very little political maneuverability to be able to pursue more creative and nuanced policy options, including accepting the Tehran Declaration. Though many critics of the proposal argue that Iran only offered it as an attempt to forestall sanctions, Parsi argued that even if this were true, it only shows “the potential and occasional success of threatening sanctions compared to the more regular lack of success of imposing sanctions.”
In order to gain support for the Tehran Declaration, Brazil and Turkey “actually systematically spoke to every power center in Iran that they had access to in order to get maximum buy-in and build the type of trust that is needed in order to be able to get a ‘yes’ from a very suspicious and paranoid Iranian leadership,” Parsi stated. Thus, despite Iran’s numerous political factions, the deal was largely supported in Iran. Even members of the Green Movement showed support for the Tehran Declaration, Parsi argued, partially because of their recognition that “the entire focus of the international community was on the nuclear issue at the expense of the human rights situation inside the country.”
”There are very few countries that the Iranians have any confidence or trust in, and obviously the United States does not have a lot of trust in the Iranians either,” Parsi concluded. “If there are a few countries that can play that role between the United States and Iran in order to be able to avoid the trajectory that the two countries currently are on…it would be too big of a mistake to completely dismiss the utility that Turkey and Brazil can play in order to resolve this issue.”