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Opinion: Push is on for UN sanctions on Iran

Turkey and Brazil wade into the Iran nuclear mess — to Washington's dismay

More significant than the deal itself, in fact, is the boldness with which Turkey and Brazil acted. Turkey, a NATO ally whose Incirlik airbase is still an integral logistical link in the Iraq War, has drifted increasingly from the close alliance it once enjoyed with Washington. The moderate Islamists who run the country still want Turkey to enter the European Union someday. But for political and economic reasons, they have made a point to reach out to their neighbors in the Middle East and Central Asia, too.

Turkey’s robust economy has powered this diplomatic drive, and improved ties with Syria, Iran, as well as far off Venezuela and China, have done little to calm fears in Washington of a drifting Turkey. The bitterness at Turkey’s decision not to allow the U.S. Fourth Army Division to attack Saddam’s army out of Turkish territory in 2003 soured ties for years, and even under Obama, things have never been quite the same.

Brazil, too, is on excellent terms with Washington. But President Lula da Silva has deftly walked a tightrope, courting populist opinion in South America with cordial ties to Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, even as he poses elsewhere as a darling of American hedge funds and energy investors.

The reaction from Washington to the Brazilian-Turkish initiative was poor. The State Department welcomed the move, but couched it as a step back from the deal agreed last year, and emphasized it would do nothing to derail the western drive for tougher sanctions.

The U.S. and its European allies, who have spent the better part of four years lobbying China and Russia to join in tougher sanctions against Iran, were clearly caught flat-footed. Talks led by Britain, France and Germany largely ground to a halt late last year after Iran backed out of the previous, more stringent deal on transferring its uranium outside the country for enrichment.

So Brazil and Turkey have their moment in the sun, and Iran clearly has to be pleased at finding credible partners whose diplomacy will clearly make it more difficult to get the Russians and Chinese to agree to finalized sanctions, no matter what is said by the State Department.

American diplomats better get used to this feeling. The G20 summit meeting in Toronto next month will do nothing but underscore the point: America’s still indispensable, but no longer the undisputed only game in town.