Iran, Brazil and the 'bomb'
By Pepe Escobar
Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim put it very politely at a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki in Tehran this Tuesday. Amorim said, "Brazil is interested to have a share in settling the Iranian nuclear issue in an appropriate way."
"Appropriate" is code for dialogue - not a fourth round of sanctions slammed by the United Nations Security Council, much less the military option, which the Barack Obama administration has stridently kept on the table. Thus by positioning itself as a mediator in search for a peaceful solution, the Brazilian government is in fact on a "soft" collision course with the Obama administration.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is visiting Tehran next
month. For "full spectrum dominance" US hawks this is anathema - as well as for Western right-wing media, Brazilian outlets included, which have been hammering Lula non-stop for his foreign policy initiative.
It matters little that once again Amorim stressed there is absolutely no consensus among the so-called "international community" to isolate Tehran. "Community" once again in this case means Washington plus a few European countries. The global South, as a whole, votes for dialogue. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is unanimously against further sanctions. The Group of 172 (all the countries outside of the Group of 20) is against further sanctions.
Brazil and Turkey, both against further sanctions, currently hold non-permanent seats at the UN Security Council. Their common position essentially mirrors China's and Russia's - both Security Council permanent members. Russia's poker face tactics and China's agreement to "discuss" sanction packages have been misinterpreted by corporate media and sold as acquiescence to Washington's demands.
Not true. At the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) meeting in Brasilia less than two weeks ago, these countries once again tacitly agreed new sanctions are not the solution, and stressed the dossier should be settled by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
In Tehran, Mottaki and Amorim also discussed the Iranian proposal for a nuclear fuel swap deal as a "confidence-building measure" that would benefit Iran vis-a-vis Washington and European capitals. Brazil offered to enrich uranium for Iran.
The problem is the new round of sanctions is being discussed in New York only between the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany - and only later will be extended to non-permanent members such as Brazil, Turkey and Lebanon, which takes the rotating chair of the Security Council next month.
The heart of the matter
Each player has their own reasons to oppose sanctions. Moscow - which already supplies Iran with nuclear reactor technology, as well as weapons - knows that sooner or later Washington will have to concede the obvious; that Iran, a key energy producer, is a natural regional power. For Beijing, Iran is a matter of national energy security; further sanctions threaten this "stability" and fall into the category of the wishful thinking of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
New Delhi hardly failed to notice that in Afghanistan, Washington has embarked on an all-out alliance with Islamabad, so India needs a stable Iran as a counter-power to Pakistan interfering in Afghanistan and once again engaging the Taliban. Brasilia wants to expand business with Tehran; and Lula for his part has been adamant that more sanctions will only open the way for all-out war, not prevent it.
Diplomats at the latest BRIC meeting hinted at the heart of the matter. The BRIC leaders - the actual, new, multi-polar power that is seriously engaged in keeping US hegemonic ambitions in check - have carefully evaluated all the mixed signals, from Pentagon supremo Robert Gates' "secret" letter to Obama in January reviewing the military options "on the table" against Iran to Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen saying at Columbia University that a strike would be his "last option". They have evaluated the level of anxiety in Washington. And they have concluded there will be no US attack on Iran.
They might be wrong. Veiled by a lot of smoke and mirrors in corporate media, there's a furious catfight going on in Washington nowadays among full spectrum dominance practitioners - from military types to American Enterprise Institute people. But it all basically amounts to one thing: when to strike Iran - sooner or later.
For the hawks, the bottom line is that Washington will never allow Iran to "acquire a nuclear capability". That inevitably implies pre-emptive war. Iran's "crime", so far, has been to develop a nuclear energy program allowed by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and inspected to kingdom come.
Within this high anxiety scenario, it does not matter that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently preached total global nuclear disarmament, and once again repeated his fatwa against even the threatened deployment of weapons of mass destruction. They are haram (forbidden) according to Islamic law.
The Pentagon itself, via Gates, remains on the offensive - threatening Iran with an explicit "all options on the table", that is, nuclear attack included; and Obama, in an Orwellian newspeak masterpiece twist, has added that the US will "sustain our nuclear deterrent" as an "incentive" to both Iran and North Korea. Incentive to commit seppuku, perhaps?
So what next?
Next month, in New York, there will be a new revision of the NPT. The Obama administration has already pressured Brazil to accept an additional protocol to the NPT. Brazil has refused.
In essence, the NPT is extremely asymmetrical. Those nations belonging to the nuclear club get VIP treatment compared to the rest. The additional protocol increases this discrimination - making it hard for any non-nuclear power even to conduct non-military research.
Brazil - which, crucially, hails from a pacifist tradition - defends the right for any sovereign country to acquire ''nuclear technology capacity''. That's what Iran has embarked on, according to all available evidence. So obviously Brasilia had to be on a collision course with Washington as far as a revised NPT is concerned. Brasilia considers it a submission to foreign interference.
As for sanctions, Washington needs a reality check. To believe that the BRICs or countries in Asia and Europe will not buy Iranian oil and gas; won't sell gasoline to Iran; and that Iranian banks won't develop ways to interface with the global economy (they have partners, for instance, in the United Arab Emirates and in Venezuela) is to live in Wonderland.
Chinese oil majors are selling gasoline to Iran directly. Iran will double its production of gasoline by 2012 after expanding 10 refineries, and is investing nearly $40 billion to build seven new refineries. Iran will keep swapping petroleum products - mostly with the Central Asian ''stans''; this shows, for instance, how it is able to import gasoline bypassing the international banking system.
And on top of it there's the black market. Jordan and Turkey smuggled rivers of oil out of sanctioned Iraq during the 1990s. With new sanctions on Iran it would be the turn of a new generation of Iraqis to hit the jackpot. As for the military dictatorship of the mullahtariat in Tehran, it would love nothing better than to use its energy profits to solidify its protective shield.
The BRIC leaders - Lula included - may have seen through the smoke and mirrors after all. Bomb? What bomb? They all know Iran cannot build a bomb, for instance, at Natanz, as long as it's being inspected to death by the IAEA. Suppose Iran pulls a North Korea, kicks out the inspectors, pulls out of the NPT and decides to build a bomb in some undisclosed location. They would need a lot of water and power - and surveillance satellites would register every move.
The BRIC leaders have in fact concluded that Washington cannot do anything about Iran acquiring "nuclear capability" apart from invading the country in a joint remix of Desert Storm and Shock and Awe and conducting bloody regime change.
Rounds and rounds of sanctions won't stop it. Israeli, US, or joint "precision" bombing would only set it back a little - not counting myriad nasty forms of blowback. There's only one sensible solution. Washington has to sit on the table with Tehran with a real "unclenched fist" and deploy all diplomatic options in search of an overall Middle East security package - and that would include full denuclearization; that is, no more "secret" Israeli nuclear bombs. It's doubtful whether the Obama administration - assailed by hawks on every front - will ever step up to this challenge.