The Iranian nuclear issue: the exclusive preserve of old diplomacies

This week has been rich in diplomatic games in the Security Council of the United Nations. While the U.S. had almost secured an agreement with the other permanent members on a fourth set of sanctions against Iran, Turkey and Brazil, both non-permanent members of the Security Council, announced at the beginning of the week that they had reached a compromise with Tehran.

This agreement provides that Iran would give 1200kg of low enriched uranium – more than half of Iran’s proven stock – to Turkey in exchange for a small amount of high enriched uranium aimed at medical purposes. The agreement is intended to brake, but do not guarantee a cessation of uranium enrichment activities in Iran.

This new proposal has nevertheless falter the agreement with Russia and China on sanctions. American diplomacy, particularly with the UN representative, Susan Rice, has operated at full capacity to keep both superpowers to reach an agreement on watered down sanctions. Far from crippling sanctions backed by the United States, the draft of resolution nevertheless retains a certain substance to any power that wants to verify Iran’s suspicious shipments when they return or leave a port. All commercial transactions from Iran will thus be supervised and the embargo on arms is extended.

Logics at work in these diplomatic twists are manifold.

First, after eight years of attempts to control, contain and negotiate Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the Western powers are losing patience, the negotiation process slows down. Pushed in the back by Israel, the U.S. lead the train of sanctions to provoke a reaction from the Iranian side.
Under the threat of new sanctions, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seems to have decided to cooperate with Brazil and Turkey in order to delay the draft of resolution and to weaken the unity of the Security Council. In the eyes of old powers, the agreement reached between the two countries is also too weak to be credible. It appears as the repetition of a proposal made by the IAEA last November when Russia then held the role of exchange platform that offers today’s Turkey. But this compromise did not give fruit.

On the other hand, emerging powers like Brazil and Turkey can be better accepted as partners by Iran, whose enmity vis-à-vis the former Western powers is demonstrated. Moreover, it is probably more acceptable for Ahmadinejad to negotiate with an Islamic neighbor. The agreement between Tehran, Ankara and Brasilia also demonstrates the entry of new powers on the stage of nuclear negotiations, usually reserved for former great powers. We can therefore see an alliance between emerging powers for a greater role in international politics.

France 24 does not hesitate to call the draft of resolution on sanctions a « diplomatic insult » vis-à-vis Turkey and Brazil (Chine et Russie acceptent de sanctionner Téhéran, annonce ClintonFrance 24, 19/5/2010). These two countries are also presumed to oppose this fourth set of sanctions against Iran. For its part, the Financial Times regrets that the West meant the agreement was biased in favor of Iran instead of applauding the entry of new players, and thus new opportunities in the efforts in « sustaining a rules-based global order »(Rising Powers do not want to play by the West’s rulesFT, 05/20/2010).

The question now is, should the Iranian nuclear issue remain in the expert hands of the old diplomacies, or is it rather an opportunity to test new models of global governance? The latter is perhaps more risky, but it is also more promising. These new sanctions against Iran, coupled with the denial of a duly negotiated compromise do not seem to carry more than new tensions of the Iranian positions at the moment.

Nathalie Janne d’Othée