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May 17th was the day that the Brazilian/Turkish initiative bore fruit in Tehran, with Iran agreeing to a ten-point arrangement designed to defuse the mounting confrontation with the United States and Israel with regard to its enrichment facilities.


It may turn out that May 17, 2010 will be remembered as an important milestone on the road to a real new world order. Remember that the phrase ‘new world order’ came to prominence in 1990 after Iraq’s invasion and annexation of Kuwait. It was used by George W. H. Bush, the elder of the two Bush presidents, to signify the possibility after the end of the Cold War to find a consensus within the UN Security Council enabling a unified response to aggressive war. The new world order turned out to be a mobilizing idea invoked for a particular situation. The United States did not want to create expectations that it would always be available to lead a coalition against would be breakers of world peace. The whole undertaking of a ‘new world order’ disappeared from diplomacy right after the First Gulf War of 1991. What one wonders now is whether the Brazilian/Turkish effort to resolve the Iran nuclear crisis with the West is not expressive of a new world, this time a ‘real new world order.’

May 17th was the day that the Brazilian/Turkish initiative bore fruit in Tehran, with Iran agreeing to a ten-point arrangement designed to defuse the mounting confrontation with the United States and Israel with regard to its enrichment facilities. The essence of the deal was that Iran would ship 1200 kilograms of low enriched uranium (LEU) to Turkey for deposit, and receive in return 120 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20% for use in an Iranian nuclear reactor devoted to medical research. The agreement reaffirmed support for the Non-Proliferation Treaty, as well as acknowledged Iran’s right under the treaty to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, which meant the entire fuel cycle, including the enrichment phase.

The bargain negotiated in Tehran closely resembled an arrangement reached some months earlier in which Iran had agreed to turn over a similar amount of low enriched uranium to France and Russia in exchange for their promise of providing fuel rods that could be used in the same medical research reactor. That earlier deal floundered as Iran raised political objections, and then withdrew. The United States had welcomed this earlier arrangement as a desirable confidence-building step toward resolving the underlying conflict, but it wasted no time repudiating the May 17th agreement, which seemed so similar.

Why the discrepancy in the American response? It is true that in recent months Iran has increased its LEU production, making 1200 kg of its existing stockpile amount to 50% of its total rather than the 80% that would have been transferred in the earlier arrangement. Also, there were some unspecified features in the May 17th plan, including how the enriched uranium would be provided to Iran, and whether there would be a system of verification as to its use. In this regard, it would have seemed appropriate if genuinely troubled by this for Washington to request Iran to transfer a larger quantity of LEU and to spell out the details, but this is not what happened.

Instead of welcoming this notable effort to reduce regional tensions, the Brazilian/Turkish initiative was immediately branded as an amateurish irrelevance by the American Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton. She insisted that the concerns about Iranian nuclear enrichment be left exclusively in the hands of the ‘major powers,’ and immediately rallied China and Russia (in addition to France and the United Kingdom) to support a fourth round of punitive sanctions that were to be presented to the UN Security Council in the near future. It now appears that the five permanent members of the Security Council will support this intensification of sanctions that is expected to call for an arms embargo on heavy weapons, travel restrictions on Iranian officials, a boycott of banks and companies listed as linked to Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, and authority to search ships to and from Iran suspected of carrying prohibited items. Such a resolution if implemented would certainly increase tensions in the Middle East without any discouragement of the Iranian nuclear program.  Indeed a new round of sanctions would almost certainly increase Iran’s incentives to exercise its full rights under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and complete its development of the complete fuel cycle as has been previously done by several other parties to the treaty, including Japan, Germany, and The Netherlands.

Given the generally constructive character of the agreement reached in Tehran, the uncompromisingly hostile reaction in Washington can only be understood in one of two ways, neither of which is reassuring. If the U.S. Government, with or without Israeli prodding, had already resolved to impose sanctions, then any development that seems to cast doubt on such a coercive approach would be regarded as unwelcome. The evidence strongly suggests that the United States was determined to go forward with additional sanctions. This made the Brazil/Turkey initiative seem like a deliberate obstruction that was essentially resented as it has been reported that American leaders tried in talk Brasilia and Ankara out of making any independent steps to resolve the crisis.

Perhaps, the more weighty explanation of the hostile response has to do with the changing cast of players in the geopolitical power game. If this reasoning is correct, then the United States angry response was intended to deliver a reprimand to Brazil and Turkey, warning them to leave questions pertaining to nuclear weapons in the hands of what Hilary Clinton called ‘the major powers.’ In effect, the non-Western world should have no say in shaping global security policy, and any attempt to do so would be rebuffed in the strongest possible terms.

Yet the world of 2010 is very different from what it was in the late 20th century. Globalization, the decline of American power, and the rise of non-Western states have changed the landscape. This process has recently accelerated as a result of the world economic crisis, and the difficulties in the Euro zone. As the famous Bob Dylan 1960’s song goes, “The times, they are a-changing.” Recall that it was not long ago that the G-8 was scrapped in favor of the more inclusive G-20. Recently, as well, much attention has been given to the rise of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) countries. What seems most at stake in this attempt to supersede and nullify the Iran deal is banishing the Brazilian and Turkish intruders from the geopolitical playing field. For the West to claim that the Security Council remains representative of the arrangement of power in 2010 is ludicrous. The identity of the five permanent members has not been altered since 1945, which is a misguided effort to overlook the fundamental shifts in world power that have taken place in recent decades. Both Brazil and Turkey were elected to be non-permanent two year members of the Security Council, which both governments interpret as conferring a special responsibility to work for peace and justice in the world. AS the May 17th agreement shows, these governments possess the political will to make a difference in world politics.

Further, this is not just a childish ploy to grab a few headlines and tweak the old guard. The confrontation with Iran is exceedingly dangerous, agitated by Israel’s periodic threats of launching a military attack and reports of pushing the United States in an escalating direction. Such a strategy of tension could easily produce a devastating regional war, disrupting the world economy, and causing widespread human suffering. Both Brazil and Turkey have strong national interests in working for regional peace and security, and one way to do this is to calm the diplomatic waters with regard to Iran’s contested nuclear program. The fact that Iran seems prepared to go ahead with the agreement, at least if the UN refrains from further sanctions, strongly favors giving the deal a chance to succeed, or at worst, working to make it more reassuring to those countries that suspect Iran of secretly planning to become a nuclear weapons state.

The concern about Iran seems genuine in many quarters, given the inflammatory language sometimes used by President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and considering the repressive internal practices in Iran. At the same time, even in this regard the United States leadership has rather dirty hands. While insisting that Iran cannot be allowed to do what several other non-nuclear states have already done in conformity with Non-Proliferation Treaty, the United States has acknowledged that it has been engaged in a variety of military activities under Pentagon auspices within Iranian territory. (For confirmation see Mark Mazzeti, “U.S. Is Said to Expand Secret Actions in Mideast,” NY Times, May 24, 2010). Also, it is impossible to overlook the dispiriting silence that has long insulated Israel’s nuclear weapons arsenal from scrutiny and censure, as well as the closely related refusal of the Western powers to back proposals put forward by Egypt and others for a nuclear free Middle East.

Back in 2003 Donald Rumsfeld, then Secretary of Defense, made headlines by contrasting ‘Old Europe’ (especially France and Germany) that he denigrated as decadent because it opposed the invasion of Iraq, and ‘New Europe’ that was the flourishing wave of the future in Eastern Europe that favored American policy. Now it is Old Europe that is again partnering with the United States, and so restored to the good graces of Washington. In this sense, Brazil and Turkey are being treated as trespassers who refuse to absent themselves from any further engagement in Middle East diplomacy.

Perhaps, we are witnessing the passing of an era in world politics, which has not yet been acknowledged. It is two decades since Charles Krauthammer, writing in Foreign Affairs, declared that “The immediate post-Cold War world is not multipolar. It is unipolar. The center of world power is the unchallenged superpower, the United States, attended by its Western allies.” The abrupt rejection of the Brazil/Turkey initiative can probably best understood as a nostalgic clinging to the ‘unipolar moment’ long after its reality has passed into history.

Turkey has already demonstrated the enormous gains for itself and the region arising from the pursuit of an independent and activist foreign policy based on resolving conflicts and reducing tensions to the extent possible, with benefits for peace, stability, and prosperity.  Not all of its initiatives have met with success. It tried to encourage the world to treat Hamas as a political actor after it fairly won elections in Gaza back in January 2006, but was rebuffed by Washington and Tel Aviv. Similarly, it brought to bear its mediating skill in trying to broker a peace deal between Israel and Syria, only to have the process break down after a series of promising negotiating rounds. Maybe also the Brazil/Turkey initiative will be effectively beaten down, but that would not mean it was not worth trying, or that such governments should not keep trying to supplant war and militarism with diplomacy and cooperative international relations. Outside of Western diplomatic circles it is already widely appreciated that the May 17th agreement reveals the exciting reality of a new geopolitical landscape in which the countries of the global South are now beginning to act as subjects, and no longer content to be mere objects in scenarios devised in the North. At some point this reality might well be christened as the ‘real new world order’!

Richard Falk , Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and author of “Crimes of War: Iraq” and “The Costs of War: International Law, the UN, and World Order after Iraq” Also, current UN Rapporteur for Palestine.

3 Comments

  1. rexw on the 30. May, 2010 remarked #

    The well written article by Richard Falk approves of the initiatives taken by Brazil and Turkey to find a solution to the Iranian need for nuclear research capability. As he said, it was very similar to one that had been seen favorably by the US some months before involving France and Russia this time.

    The unhealthy haste shown by the US in rejecting this new initiative and suggesting that such things should be left to the “major powers” was not only insulting to two countries that had achieved more than the US could have or ever will achieve in this matter but clearly indicated that the sanctions policy had already been worked out by the US as part of their never-ending need to prostrate itself in front of the world;’s #1 evil power, Israel.

    And there’s the end of the story.

    Perhaps in the history of the political manipulation of countries or individuals, there is no better example of the total failure of Clinton to fulfill the role as Secretary of State. She is the one person the US should condemn as not worthy of her role based on one single fact. She is more Israeli than any Israeli, anywhere. Now in the role she occupies, one can almost, in advance, anticipate everything she will propose on any subject because it will be based on full bodied Israeli policy, no ifs or buts.

    No one could have maintained her role as a US Senator for New York without having had the total support for AIPAC. The same applies to her success in the runup to the election against Obama. The only thing that stopped her there was a candidate who had even better credentials as a supporter of Israeli policies, something the world has seen time and again since his election. Then to have an ex-member of the IDF as Chief of Staff and an an avowed Zionist as Vice President, one needs to say no more.

    To have all these avowed Zionists performing like trained seals at the AIPAC show was the sorriest sight one could see in a lifetime.

    So Iran has to deal with these influences outside of its control to try and show that the agreement with Brazil and Turkey displays its bonafides and can stand up to world scrutiny.

    Yes, one has to agree that the generally aggressive attitudes of President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad do not help in making lesser nations see Iran in a better light, and that is true. Even loyal Iranians would concede that he has some unfortunate ways. But he was one of the students back in the ‘hostage’ days who would not support that action and as such lost some support from that body of activists. Since then, of course, the US has done enough in the world, based on the dictates of Israel, to have alienated most of the world leaders who once would have seen the US as a worthy superpower. Alas, those days are passed. Sadly for a successful outcome in Iran, the US policy will always run totally counter to good sense and reason as it rolls along with the Israeli policy of hatred and malice as its guide.

    Full marks to Brazil and Turkey. In the eyes of thousands around the world their positive efforts have made them “major powers” compared to the US because they have put peaceful considerations first and not the warlike policies of a hated nation like Israel

  2. Tomás Rosa Bueno on the 31. May, 2010 remarked #

    But where are the tough sanctions of yester-week?
    Where’s Hillary, the iron-brained lady,
    For whose sake Barack, I ween,
    Lost his principles and went all shady?

    (Apud François Villon’s “Ballade des femmes des temps jadis”)

    Richard Falk’s article Rebalancing the World gives a fair and balanced view of the far-reaching consequences of the May 17 Tehran Declaration. However, when addressing the possible reasons for the U.S. negative response to the deal brokered by Brazil between Turkey and Iran he’s right in essence, but off the mark on one crucial detail: it’s not true, or at least not entirely true, that “American leaders tried to talk Brasilia and Ankara out of making any independent steps to resolve the crisis”. They did so only from May 12, when apparently they got strong signs that Iran would accept a deal. This is when Clinton called both Lula and Erdogan to tell them that the U.S. had strong signs of the opposite, that Iran would not play ball. Erdogan took Clinton’s words at face value and cancelled his scheduled trip to Tehran at the last minute. Lula decided to go ahead with what after all was to be to climax of six months of intense talks and consultations involving Turkey, Iran, the U.S., France, and Russia.

    A deal was struck, and Erdogan had to cancel his cancellation and rush to Tehran to be present when it was signed.

    Brazil was directly involved in this issue when Obama, during the G20 Summit in Cleveland last year, publicly asked Lula to use Brazil’s influence and good relations with Iran to bring the Iranians back to the negotiation table. It’s not known whose idea it was, but this is when the “Turkey scheme” was born. The talks between the three countries continued throughout this period, and Brazil’s FM Celso Amorim spent this time practically living in a plane flying between Brazil and Turkey. The U.S. was fully informed of these intense negotiations and made suggestions all along, including in the form of the now famous letter Obama sent to Lula on April 20th, which was the basis for Brazil’s – and Turkey’s – final proposal to Iran.

    In retrospect, this chain of events makes it obvious that the Obama Administration fully expected Lula and Erdogan to make fools of themselves by coming out of Iran empty-handed and cured of their aspirations to play a role in the issue, but prodded them on anyway, “urging” them to “impress upon Iran the opportunities” of a deal, hoping to use their failure as a tool to bolster its case for stronger sanctions. When, against all odds, a deal with Iran was struck in exactly the same terms outlined by Obama in his letter to Lula, the U.S. was forced to renege on its own proposals in terms that verged on being insulting, at the very likely risk of alienating two crucial regional allies in South America and in the Middle East, because negotiating with Iran was never their intention. Their game plan contemplated only the sanctions drive.

    Since it has been demonstrated that sanctions do not work and must be used only as a last resort, when all other paths to negotiation have been closed, it makes sense to ask what are the U.S. real goals in pushing for them at such a high cost when Iran has shown its willingness to engage in meaningful talks about its nuclear program.

    *

    If they weren’t who and what they are, we could almost pity them. They had it all set up for a grand finale: Turkey and Brazil humiliated back into the sanctions fold, a unanimous vote for new harsher sanctions against Iran by the UN Security Council and a final declaration by the NPT Review Conference plenum including a condemnation of Iran’s “continued violations” of the NPT.

    Instead, they had to vote for an NPT declaration that had their pet-State Israel as the bad guy, the sanctions won’t even be voted by the UNSC and they will end up looking like fools. As Armstrong could have said, it will be a small humiliation for one country, but a great victory for mankind…

    Sic transit stultitia mundi.

  3. Vassilis K. Fouskas on the 09. Jun, 2010 remarked #

    I wholly agree with Falk’s analysis, although I’m nit sure whether we are in a position to know precisely the terms of the deal between Iran, Turkey and Brazil

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