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Despite an agreement on sanctions, the US and UN would be wise to consider the deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil in Tehran.
When President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran turned up in New York to address a nuclear review conference a couple of weeks ago, the U.S. might have seen his appearance as a splendid opportunity. The White House could have assembled an all-star team of diplomats to engage him, try to understand more fully what he is seeking, and look for areas of possible compromise. Instead, like spoiled children accustomed to having their way, American delegates to the conference stood up and left the hall in the middle of his speech.
Actions like this reflect how difficult it is for Western powers, and especially the U.S., to accept their diminished authority in the world. They face a rebellion from the periphery, represented in this case by Turkey and Brazil. These emerging powers refuse to be hemmed in by the either/or dichotomies that have been the basis of America’s approach to the world since the early days of the Cold War.
By brokering the deal with Iran, Turkey and Brazil have immensely complicated the American push for sanctions. There was undoubtedly much dismay in Washington when, hours after the deal was struck, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi of China said his country “expresses its welcome” and looks forward to more negotiations.
This is the path Turkey’s visionary foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, urged the U.S. to follow. "Discussions on sanctions will spoil the atmosphere," he warned after returning to Istanbul. "Each side now should have a positive approach, constructive style and a real intention and objective of dialogue rather than focusing on mutual suspicion, skepticism, mutual threats, sanctions or other options.”
There are at least three good reasons for the U.S. to try responding positively to the new deal, rather than dismissing it out of hand and pressing ahead with its drive for harsh sanctions on Iran.
First, the sanctions proposal has considerably less global support now than it did before the Tehran deal was struck on Monday.
Second, experience from Belgrade to Baghdad shows that sanctions tend to punish the poor and enrich a criminal class of smugglers; in Iran they might also help turn a remarkably pro-American population toward anti-Americanism.
Third and most important, the Turkey-Brazil deal holds out a glimmer of hope for resolution of a crisis that, if left unsolved, could gravely destabilize the world’s most volatile region.
It may be true, as the U.S. insists, that Iran has managed to fool its Turkish and Brazilian interlocutors and has no real interest in compromise on the nuclear issue. Given the high stakes, though, it is self-defeating for the U.S. not to seize this chance and see what can be made of it. Not doing so encourages the view that the West does not really want a deal at all.