White House Correspondent
The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday approved a resolution calling for a new round of sanctions aimed at pressuring Iran on its nuclear program. The measure passed with 12 countries voting for it, Brazil and Turkey voting against and Lebanon abstaining.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton trumpeted the new round of penalties -- the fourth -- as "the most significant sanctions that Iran has ever faced
," but Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quick to condemn them
"If the U.S. and its allies think they could hold the stick of sanctions and then sit and negotiate with us, they are seriously mistaken," Ahmadinejad said in a press conference the same day.
The resolution puts in place travel bans and financial restrictions
on individuals and entities involved in Iranian nuclear and/or ballistic missile activities, including those owned, controlled or acting on behalf of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Corps. It also includes an arms embargo and pushes for inspection of ships suspected of carrying cargo that may be involved in Iran's nuclear program.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice announced at the Security Council meeting that the resolution will target 40 entities and one individual, Javad Rihiqi, head of a nuclear center where the Iranian government processes uranium. It was reported that China, one of Iran's largest trading partners and a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, had pushed back on more stringent language, saying that broader restrictions -- especially those targeting Iran's Central Bank -- would "harm Iran's day-to-day economy
Despite the confidence expressed by backers of the sanctions, their efficacy remains in question. In his press conference Tuesday, Ahmadinejad said he would refuse to sit down for discussions with the West if the sanctions were imposed. The Iranian president is known for his tough talk (this is, after all, someone who said Israel should be "wiped off the map"), so his bold dismissal of U.S.-led efforts is, to some end, business as usual.
Yet for all of Ahmadinejad's bluster, the process by which the Security Council resolution has been put into place reflects a changing world order, one where Western superpowers like the United States and the European Union must increasingly play ball with emerging, non-Western governments -- ones that are lately emboldened to work together and leave the West out of negotiations entirely.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Turkey, where Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been leading efforts to negotiate an alternate agreement with Iran, with the help of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. In a joint Turkey-Brazil proposal, announced on May 17 and known as the Tehran Declaration, Iran would have had to agree to send 1,200 kilograms of its low-enriched uranium abroad in exchange for specially processed fuel for a medical isotope reactor. The United States dismissed this proposal as "too little, too late," but for Iran, it had the convenient effect of slowing action on broader sanctions.
Not content to sit still on the sidelines on the eve of the Security Council resolution, the Turkish government hosted a conference in Istanbul with leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran to discuss the sanctions. Russia, also a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, has been a swing vote on Iran, and its support for the resolution has been tentative at best. Though Russia ultimately voted in favor of the resolution, the optics of Russian leader Vladimir Putin standing alongside Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, while President Ahmadinejad voiced his support for the Tehran Declaration, was not exactly confidence building.
Before voting against the resolution, Turkey's Ambassador to the U.N. ,Ertugrul Apakan, called the Tehran Declaration "the first step in a broader road map that could lead to a comprehensive settlement of the problem. In other words [it] provides a new and important window of opportunity for diplomacy. Sufficient time and space should be allowed for its implementation. We are deeply concerned that adoption of sanctions will negatively affect the momentum created by the declaration and the overall diplomatic process."
Brazil's Ambassador to the U.N., Maria Viotti, announced in a similar statement before the vote, "The Brazilian government deeply regrets that the joint declaration has neither received the political recognition it deserves, nor been given the time it needs to bear fruit. Brazil considers it unnatural to rush to sanctions before the parties concerned can sit and talk about the implementation of the declaration."
To that end, the Security Council is convening a private meeting on Iran on Wednesday afternoon -- a nod to Turkey and Brazil, which requested that any action be accompanied by an "open political debate" on the Iranian nuclear program.
When asked Tuesday about Turkey's efforts to mediate the situation, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, "Of course Turkey has a role to play. Turkey, as a direct neighbor of Iran, will be among the first countries to feel whatever the effects of international action are. . . . We're not ruling out mediation. But this is not an either/or situation. These two tracks work in parallel. We happen to believe the additional pressure on Iran is the right step to take."
Upon passage of the resolution, Ambassador Rice stated, "Turkey and Brazil have worked hard to make progress on the Tehran research reactor proposal -- efforts that reflect their leaders' good intentions. . . . But the Tehran proposal -- then, and now -- does not respond to the fundamental, well-founded, and unanswered concerns about Iran's nuclear program. This resolution does."
The United States and Turkey are likely to remain close bedfellows -- or sparring partners -- for some time: with the recent Israeli attack on a Turkish-based flotilla, Turkey's role in the region must once again come into strong consideration as the United States calibrates its response. In a story in the New York Times on Wednesday, Stephen Kinzer, author of the book "Reset: Iran, Turkey and America's Future" said, "Turks are telling the U.S. 'The cold war's over. You have to take a more cooperative approach, and we can help.' The U.S. is not prepared to accept that offer." The piece went on to conclude that "Turkish and American officials play down their differences, saying they share the goal of peace in the Middle East. But certain viewpoints... do seem to be throwing up insurmountable obstacles."
For now, perhaps, the State Department is trying to accentuate the positive. "We hope that [the resolution] will be a strong, compelling, direct international message to Iran that it has to change course," said Crowley. "We are all committed to diplomacy."