Diplomacy falls on
By Sreeram Chaulia
By persuading Iran to transfer abroad 1,200 kilograms of
low-enriched uranium in return for higher enriched nuclear
fuel for use in a reactor, Turkey and
Brazil have stolen the diplomatic high
ground from Western powers at a crucial juncture.
A negotiated settlement to the Iranian nuclear imbroglio is
in the best interests of the
East and for global energy security. That
Turkey and Brazil, two non-permanent members of the United
Security Council, could gain the trust of
Iranian interlocutors and convince them to enter into the
fuel exchange deal is testimony to the expanding diplomatic
prowess of these two countries. They are growing in stature
for offering good offices as third party, neutral
intermediaries in conflicts not directly affecting them.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who leaves
office this year after two successful terms, has brilliantly
piloted his country towards great power status by proactive
diplomacy. When tensions between Venezuela, Ecuador and
Colombia were peaking in 2008, Lula stepped in as a
pragmatic middleman with goodwill across the left-right
ideological divide in Latin America.
In his quest to secure Brazil permanent membership of the
UN Security Council, Lula also realized that his country has
to be seen as playing a global role as a problem-solver,
rather than as a state narrowly confined to enhancing its
own economic growth and military muscle.
To this end, he forayed into the Israel-Palestinian
conflict through a high-profile diplomatic mission in March
2010, emphasizing Brazil's clean slate as a non-colonial
outside power willing to nudge the two estranged sides back
to the table.
Lula not only aspired for Brazil to achieve an equal footing
with members of the Middle East Quartet through Track I
diplomacy, but also floated lighter proposals like soccer
games pitting the Brazilian national team against a mixed
Israeli-Palestinian eleven. The quartet is a forum involved
in mediating the Israeli-Palestinian peace process that
comprises the US, Russia, the European Union and the UN.
Although Turkey is not a developing country like Brazil, it
has earned a distinct reputation as a reliable Middle
Eastern stopover for parties involved in the multiple
conflicts across the volatile region. Ankara has mediated in
the bitter Israel-Syria
face-off to solve a linchpin-like bilateral dispute that
could set off a virtuous cycle of settlements. Turkey has
also approached the polarized Palestinian armed factions and
suggested that it might be better placed than
Egypt as a universally likeable third
party in these internecine feuds.
Brazil and Turkey are thus redefining themselves as
responsible participants in international politics through
early recognition of their respective strengths and timely
entries into seemingly intractable conflicts. The irony of
the current logjam over Iran's nuclear program is that
Turkey could wheedle something out of
Tehran, whereas US Defense Secretary Robert Gates had
already thrown up his arms in the air in a leaked secret
memorandum admitting that the US had no effective strategy.
As smartly positioned and attitudinally astute states,
Turkey and Brazil have expanded options for the
international community when Washington has been clueless
about how to even understand Iran, leave alone rein in its
nuclear ambitions. The Barack Obama administration began on
a conciliatory note towards Iran last year but it has lost
its way to the point that old hardliner tactics have
returned as the mainstay of US policy towards Tehran.
Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency
Ali Asghar Soltanieh recently referred to "a serious trust
deficit for the last 30 years" between his country and the
US. This deficit was expected to shrink with Obama's rise,
but from the Iranian perspective, the reverse has happened.
Obama's sweet talk was camouflage to overthrow the
ayatollah-dictated regime, since special operations by the
US security establishment against Iran that were inherited
from the George W Bush era do not appear to have been
The intelligence consultancy firm Stratfor revealed in
February last year that Israel had launched a "covert war"
with American cooperation to disrupt Iran's nuclear program
and decapitate "key human assets" driving it. The mysterious
bomb attack assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist,
Massoud Ali-Mohammadi, in January occurred against the
backdrop of post-election protests and was represented in
the West as a possible act by the Iranian regime to rid
itself of an opposition supporter. But Ali-Mohammadi's
stature as a senior theoretical nuclear physicist suggests
he was more likely on the hit-list of Western agencies.
The New York Times published a report on Tuesday that said
the US military high command in the Middle East was
expanding clandestine activities to prepare the ground for
"possible military strikes in Iran if tensions over its
nuclear ambitions escalate", as laid out in a "secret"
directive by the chief of America's Central Command, General
David Petraeus. The exact details of the order, which
authorized "specific operations in Iran", are unknown, but
the saber-rattling comes across as ironfisted blackmail of
the Iranian establishment and defeats possibilities of frank
diplomatic talks with Washington.
With advancing war plans as apparent backups, Western powers
have sounded a dismissive verdict on the Turkey-Brazil swap
plan as "too little, too late" and are pressing ahead by
mooting yet another round of UN sanctions. Such behavior
reconfirms that Washington and its allies possess nothing
creative to break the deadlock.
Turkey and Brazil, on the other hand, may not have changed
the Middle East through some stroke of genius, but they can
claim credit for generating the opening needed to eventually
rid the world of the possibility of another nuclear-armed
Sreeram Chaulia is an
associate professor of world politics at the OP Jindal
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