Well, that didn’t take long.
In my previous note (yesterday, below) I wondered if we were smart enough to declare victory and take yes as an answer from Tehran. Today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced that a new package of sanctions against Iran had been approved by the major powers and would be sent to the UN Security Council later in the day.
In case anyone overlooked the significance of this action, which followed by one day the announcement by Brazil and Turkey of the successful conclusion of their negotiations with Iran, she added: “I think this announcement is as convincing an answer to the efforts undertaken in Tehran over the last few days as any we could provide.”
Take that, Tehran! But it turns out that this lifted middle finger was not limited to Iran. Only hours before Clinton’s announcement, the foreign minister of Turkey held his own press conference. Obviously unaware of what was about to happen, he described in some detail not only the tortuous negotiation process with Iran, but his perception that he was acting directly on behalf of the United States.
According to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, he had been in “constant contact” with Clinton herself and with national security adviser James Jones, while his prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had face-to-face encouragement from President Obama in December and April.
The objective of Turkey and Brazil was to persuade Iran to accept the terms of an agreement the United States had itself promoted only six months ago as a confidence-building measure and the precursor to more substantive talks. There were twelve visits back and forth between the Turk and his Iranian counterpart, some 40 phone conversations, and eighteen grueling hours of personal negotiations leading up to the presentation of the signed agreement on Monday.
“What they wanted us to do was give the confidence to Iran to do the swap. We have done our duty,” said Davutoglu, calling the deal an important step for regional and global peace. “We were told that if Iran gives 1,200 kg without conditions, then the required atmosphere of trust would be created [to avoid sanctions]. So if we do all these things, and they still talk about sanctions … [it] will damage the psychological trust that has been created.”
The Turks and Brazilians, who felt they had “delivered” Iran on the terms demanded by the United States, were surprised and disappointed at the negative reactions from Washington. Little did they know that their success in Tehran, which had been given a 0-30 percent chance just days earlier, came just as the Americans were putting the final touches on a package of sanctions to be presented to the UN Security Council. The Tehran agreement was as welcome as a pothole in the fast lane, and the Americans were not reluctant to let their displeasure be known.
The five major powers had made up their minds (without consulting other members of the Security Council that currently includes both Turkey and Brazil), and these two mid-level powers were told in so many words to get out of the way.
The gratuitous insult aside, which approach do you believe would most likely result in real progress in slowing or halting Iran’s nuclear program? We have been imposing ever-greater sanctions on Iran for more than fifteen years. When we started they had zero centrifuges; today they have in excess of 9,000. To those who believe that one more package of sanctions will do what no other sanctions have done so far, I can only say I admire your unquenchable optimism.
More likely the Turkish ambassador to the UN had it about right when he said quite plainly about sanctions, “They don’t work.”
Would a negotiating track do better, perhaps mediated by two middle-level powers who have built up some credibility with Iran, like Algeria when it finally engineered the end to the US-Iran hostage crisis in 1980-81? We’ll never know. Tonight the hardliners in Iran (and their American counterparts) are celebrating.
The Iranian hardliners had already begun asking questions about the deal, fearful that Iran had given away too much. Now they don’t have to worry since everyone knows that Iran will never be willing or able to negotiate under the threat of sanctions.
For the Revolutionary Guards it is a huge bonus. As foreign companies are driven away, the Guards progressively take over more and more of the economy. And as restrictions on trade grow, so do their opportunities to manage the immensely profitable smuggling routes. Like their American counterparts, but for different reasons, they thrive on an environment of threat and isolation.
The presidents of Turkey and Brazil have been humiliated. But the Great Powers are confident that their lesser cousins know their place and will show deference when the chips are down. They’ll do what they have to do. They always do.
Don’t they… ?
4 years ago
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