Has Brazil's Lula become Iran's useful idiot?
Has Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio “Lula” da Silva become Iran’s useful idiot?
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad clearly thinks so. On Wednesday his website posted a statement saying he had accepted “in principle” a supposed Brazilian proposal to defuse Iran’s standoff with the U.N. Security Council -- and prevent the adoption of new sanctions pressed by the United States, Britain and France.
The Brazilian foreign ministry hastily denied that there was a concrete proposal. But that’s irrelevant: Lula, who is planning a trip to Tehran next week, is obviously seeking to position himself as the mediator who can broker a deal between Iran and the West.
His gesture would be as irrelevant as his recent attempt to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- except for the fact that Brazil currently holds one of the rotating seats on the Security Council. Like Turkey, another temporary member, Brazil is stoutly resisting the new sanctions initiative, which is one reason why the measure was not adopted last month, as the Obama administration had hoped.
In other words, Lula is providing Iran with valuable time to delay sanctions, even as it presses ahead with enrichment and prepares a new generation of centrifuges to do it more efficiently.
The Brazilian “proposal” seems to amount to another version of the deal Iran has already rejected repeatedly: an exchange of most of the nuclear material it has already enriched for fuel rods it could use to resupply a medical research reactor. Tehran initially appeared to accept a Western offer along these lines last fall, then retreated. Since then it has played at discussing various variations on the deal -- most of which would neuter the point of the transaction from the West’s point of view, which was to remove nuclear material from Iran.
Ahmadinejad’s obvious intention is to discuss this proposal with Lula as long as possible -- without, of course, ever agreeing. “The proposal has many details,” Ahmadinejad’s chief of cabinet said on Wednesday.
Turkey has already been playing this same game with Iran for months, with no results. So why would Lula jump in? For the same reason as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan: to prove that his country is an emerging world power that is capable of acting independently -- and defying the United States. It doesn’t matter to Lula that his diplomacy has no chance of succeeding. What matters are the wire service stories describing Brazil as “an emerging world player” and Lula himself as one of the globe’s most influential leaders.
The price for this vanity diplomacy is the continued delay of sanctions that could be the last chance of stopping Iran’s drive for a nuclear weapon peacefully. The United States looks impotent; Ahmadinejad and his Revolutionary Guard cronies are confirmed in the belief that they have nothing to fear from the West. President Obama’s attempt to restore multilateralism to the center of U.S. diplomacy falls flat.
But will there be any consequences for Lula? The Brazilian president probably doesn’t mind much whether or not Iran acquires nuclear weapons -- after all, he is in his last year in office, and Iran poses no threat to Brazil. Nor does the Obama administration appear inclined to punish the Brazilian leader, whom Obama recently called “my man.” The State Department said this week that the administration is “increasingly skeptical” that Iran was going to change course, and that “there may still be a difference of opinion” with Brazil “as to where we are in this process.”
Nevertheless, “we do recognize the value and importance of a variety of countries engaging Iran,” spokesman Philip Crowley said.
In other words: Lula, go ahead and grandstand.
| May 6, 2010; 12:59 PM ET
Categories: Diehl | Tags: Jackson Diehl
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