Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Global Viewpoint

Former CIA officer on Iran: Brazil and Turkey are vital checks and balances

Shouldn’t the world welcome the actions of two significant, responsible, democratic, and rational states to intervene and help check the foolishnesses of decades of US policy on Iran?

By Graham E. Fuller / May 24, 2010


If Washington thinks it now faces complications on getting United Nations Security Council sanctions against Iran, that’s not the half of it. A greater obstacle is the subtle change introduced into international power relationships by the actions of Brazil and Turkey that has accompanied it.

Skip to next paragraph

These two medium-size powers, Brazil and Turkey, have just challenged the guiding hand of Washington in determining nuclear strategy towards Iran. They undertook their own initiative to persuade Iran to accede to a deal on the handling of nuclear fuel issues. Not only was that initiative entirely independent, it moved ahead in the face of fairly crude American warnings to both states not to contemplate it – even though it closely paralleled one offered to Iran last year that fell through, mainly due to Iranian maneuvering and its fundamental distrust of Washington’s intent and blustering style.

Adding insult to injury, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan both had the temerity to actually succeed in their negotiations with Iran while Washington was publicly predicting their certain (and hoped for) failure.

Are the Iranians simply engaging in another con game, playing for time – a maneuver at which they excel? Or has something more profound taken place?

First, it is not only the terms of the deal that matter, but the messengers and atmospherics. Washington for decades has dealt with Iran – almost always indirectly – with considerable truculence and belligerence as the background music to “negotiations.” This is business as usual – the world’s sole superpower demanding others to agree to its strategy of the moment.

When Mr. Lula and Mr. Erdogan came to Tehran, the game was entirely different. It wasn’t the content so much as the negotiators, the venue, and the atmospherics. Tehran did not feel this time that it was acceding to superpower pressure, but to a reasoned and respectful request by two significant peer states in the world with no record of imperialism in Iran. In one sense, the deal was almost bound to succeed. What Iran wants as much as anything in this world is to blunt US dominance of the international order, and especially its ability to dictate terms in the Middle East.

If Iran is to yield at all on nuclear policy, what better device than to accede to two respected and successful states that were themselves defying Washington’s wishes in even attempting negotiations? If Tehran had refused that offer, it might have torpedoed the very concept of independent alternative, non-American efforts in international strategy. It made all the sense in the world for Iran to say “yes” this time to this combination of approach.

The same goes for China and Russia. After the Lula-Erdogan success, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton immediately proclaimed her own success at garnering Russian and Chinese support for enhanced sanctions against Iran – a stunningly insulting response to the remarkable accomplishment of Brazilian and Turkish negotiation. These states are, after all, immensely important to US regional and global interests. To blow them off like that was a major blunder, not just in terms of Iran, but in broader global strategy. The rest of the world has surely taken further negative note that Washington’s game remains depressingly familiar.