As Iran Lobbies Against Sanctions, Biden Sees World ‘Unified’ on Nuclear Issue
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – who spent Thursday in Zimbabwe -- was due to arrive Friday in Uganda. Uganda is one of the non-permanent Security Council members whose support Tehran hopes to win.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, meanwhile, is scheduled to visit another non-permanent member, Austria, on Sunday, and he has voiced the desire for one-on-one talks with every member of the Security Council, bar the United States.
Vice President Joe Biden voiced optimism Thursday that a sanctions resolution against Iran would be in place “by the end of this month or in the first weeks of May.”
Despite the uphill battle waged by the U.S. and its allies to win support for strong sanctions, Biden told the ABC talk show “The View” that “this is the first time the entire world is unified. Iran is out of bounds.”
Passing a resolution requires the support of at least nine of the council’s 15 members, and no veto from any of the permanent five ( P5) – the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France.
With China and Russia reportedly working to dilute the measure – as they did with three previous sanctions resolutions – Iran is focusing on the non-permanent group. Offering the prospect of business partnerships while making appeals to developing world solidarity, it appears to be making inroads.
Iran also is taking advantage of the current global focus on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), stoking long-simmering resentment among developing nations about an international nuclear regime many consider to be unfair – a “monopoly” favoring a small group of powerful states which deny others their NPT-given rights to peaceful nuclear technology. (Iran denies that its program has eventual military ambitions.)
Another element of its strategy is to revive talk about a nuclear fuel swap agreement offered by so-called “P5+1” major powers last year but rejected by Iran, which instead offered various counter-proposals not acceptable to its negotiating partners.
During the drawn-out nuclear dispute, Iran has frequently swung from taking defiant steps to displaying a willingness to find a resolution, only to later change direction, put forward new conditions, or ask for more time.
The U.S. and its European allies are keen to secure as tough as possible a resolution, with the widest possible support among council members. Stressing the value of a unified stance, Western diplomats are hoping for more than the minimum nine “yes” votes.
The 10 non-permanent members can be roughly divided into three groups: Turkey, Brazil and Lebanon have already indicated public opposition to sanctions, and are expected to vote against a resolution or to abstain; Austria, Mexico and Japan are thought likely to vote for the resolution; and Uganda, Nigeria, Gabon and Bosnia are viewed as undecided, the targets of energetic lobbying.
Turkey, like Iran, is an active member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), whose members customarily vote as a bloc. Under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ankara has stepped up its political leadership in the Middle East and wider Islamic world. Along with Brazil, Turkey has emerged as a key opponent of Iran sanctions in the council, pledging to support Tehran in international forums. President Obama’s appeals to Erdogan on the sidelines of the recent Washington nuclear summit were unsuccessful, and Turkey has recently voiced willingness to broker a new deal for a Iranian nuclear fuel swap.
Brazil is vocally opposed to sanctions against Iran. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva made his stance clear when hosting Ahmadinejad last year, and reiterated it when meeting with Obama and Erdogan in Washington this month. Da Silva plans to visit Tehran in mid-May.
Lebanon’s shaky unity government includes members of the Shi’ite militia Hezbollah, which is backed by and fiercely loyal to Iran. The best the West can hope for from the OIC member is an abstention. Days before Lebanon began its two-year stint on the council, one of its most powerful politicians assured Tehran that Beirut would back Iran in all international bodies and organizations.
Uganda, an active OIC member despite not being a majority-Muslim state, has friendly relations with Western and Islamic governments but has generally voted with the OIC on divisive matters at the U.N. When President Yoweri Museveni visited Tehran last year, Ahmadinejad offered to build an oil refinery in the African country, which has significant petroleum reserves. Reports from Kampala say Ahmadinejad’s visit this weekend will focus on the sanctions resolution on one hand, and the refinery and other business and investment opportunities on the other. Uganda’s likely ultimate position on a sanctions resolution remains unclear, but a presidential spokesman said this week Museveni’s opposition to a few countries monopolizing nuclear technology at the expense of others “has not changed,” Uganda’s Daily Monitor reported.
Gabon, another OIC member, hosted Mottaki earlier this month, and President Ali Bongo voiced support for Iran’s right under the NPT to nuclear technology. Following talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington last month, Bongo kept his cards close to his chest, pledging to work with the permanent council members “to make sure that the world is a better place,” and saying with regard to Iran that Gabon’s “aim is not just to punish,” but to help.
Nigeria, the fifth council member which is also a member of the OIC, is thought likely to abstain or vote against a sanctions resolution. Acting President Goodluck Jonathan held a 15-minute meeting with Obama on the sidelines of the nuclear security summit, and Nigerian media reported that the Iran resolution was one of the subjects discussed.
Bosnia and Hercegovina has cordial relations with Iran, Turkey and the Islamic world – 40 percent of its citizens are Muslims and it holds OIC observer status – but it also has Western aspirations. It is on track to join the European Union and on Thursday was awarded a coveted Bosnia and HercegovinaMembership Action Program (MAP) which should enable it eventually to join NATO. The Sarajevo-based daily Dnevni Avaz reported last week that NATO diplomats tied support for the MAP to Bosnian agreement to back an Iran sanctions resolution. The same paper reported earlier that Iran had sent Sarajevo a list of arguments against the imposition of new sanctions.
European Union member Austria and close U.S. allies Japan and Mexico are confidently expected to vote for an Iran resolution.