Foreign Policy Blogs

Iran: Great Powers Collide

This is a guest post by Patrick Frost, a Senior Blogger at FPA:

Iran: Great Powers Collide

In the past couple days, the world’s great powers have been busy courting and challenging the Middle East’s prospective regional power, Iran. To most people’s surprise, the leaders of Turkey and Brazil reached an agreement with Tehran to transport and hold about half of Iran’s enriched uranium, but the details are still thin. In the deal, it is believed that there are no limits to how high Iran can continue to enrich their kept uranium and unlike the US/European/Russia led deal which Tehran reneged on last year, it would allow Iran to still keep enough uranium to make a nuclear weapon. This announcement has been followed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s proclamation that the UN Security Council 5 permanent members plus Germany have reached an agreement on a fourth round of sanctions on Iran. It is unknown how extensive the sanctions are as Russia and China have likely watered them down. In any case, it is hoped that if the sanctions are passed, they could be followed by additional individual pressure from the US and European states.

Are these two great power plays contradictory or compatible? The real fear about the Turkey-Brazil-Iran deal is that it will allow Iran to continue its nuclear weapon buildup while having the cover of international legitimacy bestowed on it by Rio and Ankara. Unfortunately, nearly the same thing can be said about the sanctions. The US/EU/Russia/China can look like they are ‘doing something’ to stop Tehran’s nuclear pursuit, but the bottom line is that the Islamic Republic is still in the drivers seat. From what I’ve read, the Turkey-Brazil-Iran deal does not do enough to really stop Iran’s nuclear efforts. As Greg Scoblete of Real Clear World stated: ‘this is the kind of deal that is okay to countries – like Brazil and Turkey – that aren’t terribly concerned with Iran’s nuclear program.’ If this is true, then the deal made could really cause problems for the US, Israel, Europe, Egypt, and all others who fear a nuclear Iran. Apparently, the Obama administration tacitly supported Brazil and Turkey’s rapprochement to Tehran on this issue, but they surely are backtracking now. Clinton has been timid in her remarks about the 3-way deal and stated that ‘the details matter’.

There is hope that the UNSC sanctions are indeed a strong step forward in this process and can lead to further steps that can push Iran into a deal that can keep Iran from weaponizing and a physical confrontation from occurring. Of note, both Turkey and Brazil are currently 2 of the 10 non-permanent members of the UN Security Council and along with the 5 permies, 5 more votes will be needed to pass the sanction resolution. Even if the resolution passes without Turkey and Brazilian support it will suffer some international legitimacy and the Islamic Republic leaders can yak and yak about being unfairly targeted after they already made a ‘fair deal’.

If Turkey and Brazil indeed push against the UNSC sanctions and actively promote their Iranian deal as the only way forward it will be quite the gamble. In effect, they will be choosing the side of Iran. Turkey’s government has been lurching towards south and east and away from the US, Europe, and Israel so this is not that surprising, but Brazil’s choice in the matter is a bit more puzzling. Brazil has a not insignificant amount of trade with Tehran and has butted heads with the US on several minor issues (Honduras election, Colombia basing rights), but this move could really put it on the opposite side of the US on a major foreign policy issue that could become a crisis.

Alas, these moves are still in their early stages and it would not be surprising to see Brazil and Turkey come back into the fold during the coming UNSC resolution debates. We shall see.



Patrick Frost

Patrick Frost recently graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science - International Relations. His MA thesis analyzed the capabilities and objectives of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Central Asia and beyond and explored how these affected U.S. interests and policy.

Areas of Focus:
Eurasia, American Foreign Policy, Ideology, SCO

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