Isolating Iran

Isolating Iran

America needs all the help it can get on Iran—which means making up with Brazil and Turkey.

U. S. diplomacy dodged two bullets in the run-up to Wednesday’s Iran sanctions vote in the Security Council. The first was that the fallout from the Gaza flotilla would either continue to delay bringing the sanctions measure before the Council, or that there might be an effort to more explicitly link Iran’s transgressions with Israel’s actions. The second was that the recently announced agreement between Iran, Brazil and Turkey would give Russia and China the excuse to declare that diplomatic efforts were indeed working and that passing a sanctions measure at this juncture would be counterproductive. None of these things happened, and not only did the measure pass through with no vetoes wielded by Russia or China, both Moscow and Beijing voted for the measure. It would have had far less significance if both had merely abstained.

The resolution passed; now comes the hard work of getting countries to translate its principles into concrete action. And one of those challenges is getting the rising powers of the south and east on board.

Brazil and Turkey felt that their diplomatic initiative produced a workable agreement that would produce a possible trajectory for the long-term resolution of the crisis. The United States disagreed, believing that the deal reached between Tehran, Brasilia and Ankara did not continue sufficient safeguards. In turn, Brazil and Turkey both voted against the U.S.-proposed sanctions resolution in the Security Council.

The Obama administration has been under consistent criticism for its supposed tendency not to “punish” countries that oppose U.S. policy, which is perhaps why UN Ambassador Susan Rice decided to ratchet up the rhetoric after the vote was taken, declaring:

They are now the outliers. They are standing outside of the rest of the Security Council, outside of the body of the international community.

Not so fast. India, the world’s largest democracy, and a growing associate of Brazil, has also been unsure about the efficacy of new sanctions. Had India been on the Security Council, it is not clear New Delhi would have automatically voted in favor of the U.S. draft. Other rising powers—including many of the “southern democracies”—have also expressed similar ambivalence.

The Brazilian government had briefed both President Dimitri Medvedev of Russia and President Hu Jintao of China (as well as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India) of its intentions at the BRIC summit in Brasilia last month, and neither country sought to dissuade Brazil from going forward. While China did cast a “yea” ballot in Turtle Bay on Wednesday, it has also renewed its calls for diplomatic efforts. Prime Minister Putin—meeting with Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier this week (hardly a sign of Turkey’s “isolation”)—also seemed to endorse his version of a two-track approach: going ahead with a sanctions resolution in New York, but seeing if the Turkish-Brazilian deal can in fact work.

This is a two-track approach the United States can endorse, while keeping other options in play, including increased covert efforts to disrupt and delay the Iranian program. Part of that process will be to reach out to Brazil and Turkey to ensure that we all share the same end goal: an Iran that does not develop nuclear weapons. Trying to isolate either Brazil (which, after all, will have its own presidential elections quite soon) or Turkey is not an effective strategy. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made this point yesterday in London, noting that the U.S. and other Western governments should make “ stronger linkages with the West more apparently of interest and value to Turkey’s leaders.”

Back in 2003, after the Iraq war began, I noted that, despite the opposition that France and Russia had marshaled in the Security Council to the policies of the Bush administration, it might be possible—and certainly desirable—to put together not only an “inner coalition” of states that supported the U.S. action but an “outer coalition” of countries that could offer assistance. Advice given by Paul Saunders and Dimitri Simes at that time is just as relevant today: “Determination, Not Recrimination.”


Nikolas K. Gvosdev, a senior editor at The National Interest, is a professor of national-security studies at the U.S. Naval War College. The views expressed are entirely his own.