The US is doing its best, once again, to prevent a negotiated solution to the Iran crisis. On 17 May, Brazil and Turkey pulled off a major diplomatic coup by reaching agreement with Iran on swapping Iranian uranium fuel for more highly-enriched fuel for a medical reactor, designed to produce medical isotopes used in diagnosing cancers.
Iran accepted conditions it had previously rejected as humiliating (see PN 2522 for details). It agreed to deliver 1,200kg of low-enriched uranium to Turkey by 17 June, after details of the fuel-swap had been settled with the Vienna group (US, Russia, France and the IAEA). No such agreement was reached with the Vienna group. Instead, the US drove a sanctions resolution through the UN security council on 9 June, poisoning the atmosphere for nuclear negotiations with Iran.
The vote in the security council was 12 for, 2 against, one abstaining; Brazil and Turkey both voted against the resolution, and Lebanon abstained. The resolution was almost completely pointless, more of a propaganda tool than an actual sanctions package. It did not limit Iran’s capacity to produce and export gas or oil. It did not limit any country’s capacity to offer financial services, insurance, reinsurance, and so on to Iranian individuals and entities.
There was a long list of Iranian individuals and entities whose international travel was prohibited and whose assets were to be frozen. However, as former senior US foreign policy officials Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett pointed out on their blog “The Race for Iran”, all but one of these individuals and entities had already been sanctioned in previous resolutions.
The Leveretts, who both used to work in the US national security agency, believe that the almost-toothless resolution confirms their analysis: the Obama administration is showing that engaging Iran doesn’t work, and that sanctions don’t work. Soon, the Leveretts believe, the only option left to the administration will be the formal adoption of regime change as the explicit goal of its Iran policy – and/or military strikes.
A few days after the passage of the UN resolution, the US and the EU then launched new, unilateral sanctions against Iran: the EU banned investments and technology transfers to Iran’s oil and gas industry, and the US banned US citizens from trading with a number of Iranian firms and individuals.
The Brazilian president, Lula, was so enraged by the US rejection of the Turkish-Brazilian breakthrough that he committed the diplomatic sin of releasing a private letter from US president Barack Obama.
In his 20 April letter, Obama said he had always seen Iran’s request for a fuel swap “as a clear and tangible opportunity to begin to build mutual trust and confidence”. He described the IAEA proposal (which was the basis for the Turkish-Brazilian-Iranian deal) as “crafted to be fair and balanced”. Obama also said that Iran’s agreement to transfer 1,200kg of low enriched uranium (LEU) out of the country “would build confidence and reduce regional tensions by substantially reducing Iran’s LEU stockpile”.
Obama specifically asked Brazil to press Iran to export its LEU to a third country – he specifically mentions Turkey – during the fuel production process.
On 19 June, Celso Amorim announced that Brazil would no longer play a pro-active role in the Iran crisis. The Brazilian foreign minister said: “We were directly involved in seeking a solution and we were encouraged to do that. And then when we produced a result it had no consequence. “On the same day that the [Brazilian-Iranian-Turkish] agreement was produced, before it had even been analysed, the immediate response was the request for a [UN] resolution [on sanctions].” Amorim said: “We got our fingers burned by doing things that everybody said were helpful and in the end we found that some people could not take ‘yes’ for an answer.”