Daniel W. Drezner

Some interesting developments on Iran sanctions

So, in the past 36 hours there has been news about two deals involving Iran.  The first one involved an arrangement brokered by Turkey and Brazil:  In what could be a stunning breakthrough in the years-long diplomatic deadlock over Iran’s nuclear program, Tehran has agreed to send the bulk of its nuclear material to Turkey as ...

So, in the past 36 hours there has been news about two deals involving Iran.  The first one involved an arrangement brokered by Turkey and Brazil

In what could be a stunning breakthrough in the years-long diplomatic deadlock over Iran’s nuclear program, Tehran has agreed to send the bulk of its nuclear material to Turkey as part of an exchange meant to ease international concerns about the Islamic Republic’s aims and provide fuel for an ailing medical reactor, the spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry told state television Monday morning.

Whether this was really a breakthrough or just a last-minute dodge by Iran to fend off sanctions, commentators mostly agreed on two things:  A)  This showed how Turkey and Brazil were new heavyweights in international relations; and B)  This would complicate and delay a new round of United Nations sanctions.  

All well and good, except that now there’s another breakthrough…. on a new round of Security Council sanctions

The United States has reached agreement with Russia and China on a strong draft resolution to impose new United Nations sanctions on Iran over its uranium-enrichment program, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced Tuesday.

Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a scheduled hearing on a new strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia, Clinton shrugged off a surprise deal announced Monday in which Iran would swap a portion of its low-enriched uranium for higher-grade uranium to power a research reactor that produces medical isotopes. The deal, brokered by Turkey and Brazil during a high-level visit to Tehran, was meant in part to assuage concerns over Iran’s nuclear program and discourage new U.N. sanctions.

"Today I am pleased to announce to this committee we have reached agreement on a strong draft with the cooperation of both Russia and China," Clinton said in an opening statement. She said the United States has been working closely for several weeks with five other world powers on new sanctions and plans to "circulate that draft resolution to the entire Security Council today."

Well, this is an interesting development.  What’s going on? 

I think the key is that Russia was not persuaded by the Turkey-Brazil-Iran deal: 

Sergei B. Ivanov, the deputy prime minister of Russia, was similarly skeptical at a lunchtime speech in Washington. He said he expected the sanctions resolution to “be voted in the near future,” and said that the new Iranian accord should not be “closely linked” to the sanctions effort. “Iran should absolutely open up” to inspectors, he said. That statement was significant because Russia had been reluctant to join sanctions several months ago. China, which has also been hesitant, issued no statement.

With Russia firmly on  board, and China apparently unwilling to ge the lone P-5 holdout, Monday’s Iran deal had no effect on the calculus of the Security Council.

Why was Russia unpersuaded?  To date, Russia and China have taken advantage of any Iranian feint towards conciliation as an excuse to delay sanctions.   What’s different now? 

I’d suggest three possibilities, which are not mutually exclusive: 

1)  Russia is genuinely unpersuaded that Monday’s deal is anything more than marginally useful;

2)  Russia is just as annoyed as the United States at the young whipperrsnapper countries rising powers of the world going rogue in their diplomacy.  Russia is, in many ways, more sensitive to questions about prestige than the United States;

3)  Cynically, there’s little cost to going along with the United States on sanctions that will have very little impact on the Russian-Iranian economic relationship. 

Commenters are encouraged to provide additional explanations below. 

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and the author of Theories of International Politics and Zombies. His latest book is The Toddler in Chief. Twitter: @dandrezner

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