Why Tehran courts UN members from Brazil to Bosnia on Iran nuclear issue

Facing a US-led push for fresh Iran nuclear sanctions within weeks, Tehran has launched a diplomatic counteroffensive aimed at smaller UN players who will vote on the issue. Brazilian leaders are in Tehran today.

By , Staff writer

Iran has pushed its diplomacy into overdrive as it tries to woo members of the United Nations Security Council away from US-led efforts to impose new sanctions within weeks.

From Brazil to Uganda, Bosnia to China, top Iranian officials are on a charm offensive unlike any in recent memory.

Though Iran may not be able to block a new sanctions vote – heavyweight Russia is expected to back further measures, and American officials are convinced that China won’t block them – Iran’s arguments have have raised the question for several nations of nuclear technology and who can have it.

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At the same time, Iran is bidding to resurrect talks on a UN-backed nuclear fuel swap deal on offer last October but since stalled.

“The Iranians have to some extent succeeded in recasting the terms of the debate,” says Shannon Kile, a nonproliferation specialist at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Sweden.

“It’s not so much about the spread of nuclear weapons, but more about ... who has the right to control access to advanced nuclear technology,” says Mr. Kile. He says Iran is finding willing listeners because rather than its frequent rhetoric about Israel and Palestine it's focusing on nuclear power as a symbol of modernity. “They’ve actually got a lot of traction on that, especially from countries like Brazil and even Egypt, which has a lot of suspicions about Iran otherwise.”

Tehran is this week hosting Foreign Minister Celso Amorim of Brazil – a key non-permanent UNSC member that supports Iran’s peaceful nuclear energy program.

Iran lobbies all Security Council members – except US

During a nuclear conference hosted by Tehran 10 days ago, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki declared that Iran would directly lobby all 15 members of the Security Council – except the US, an arch-foe.

US lawmakers are currently considering unilateral legislation that would go much further than the punitive UN measures by blocking refined fuel imports to Iran. Enforcement would require a naval blockade of Iran, which critics note is an act of war.

“Iran is going around the world to evade responsibility ... but I think we are confident that the UN Security Council will put forth a resolution,” a senior US State Department official said on Monday, according to Agence France-Presse. “Countries are very conscious of Iran’s failure to live up to its obligations. No one wants to see the [nuclear] Non-Proliferation Treaty undercut.”

Tehran hosting Brazilian leaders this week

Iranian officials routinely dismiss as harmless any fourth layer of UNSC sanctions, meant – like the previous three sets – to force Iran to stop enriching uranium while it resolves remaining questions about possible weapon efforts.

But it appears that Iran is pulling out all the diplomatic stops to prevent new sanctions.

After meeting with Mr. Amorim on Monday, parliament speaker Ali Larijani – Iran’s former top nuclear negotiator – said sanctions pressure would not force Iran to stop enriching uranium, as required by previous UNSC decisions.

“Issuing resolutions and imposing sanctions is not the correct language for dialogue and interaction with Iran,” said Mr. Larijani, adding that “sensationalism and making a fuss will not have any influence on the Iranian people’s will to resist.”

Amorim, for his part, said that he didn't see Iran as being "close" to making a bomb.

“Call us naïve, but I think those who believe in everything the US intelligence service says are much more naïve," said the foreign minister in a Sunday press interview ahead of his two-day visit wrapping up today. "Look at Iraq.”

Ahmadinejad courts Zimbabwe, Uganda

On Monday, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the UN Security Council (UNSC) and the veto rights of its five permanent members “satanic tools” – along with atomic bombs.

Ahmadinejad has taken Iran's diplomacy to Africa. In the past few days, he has visited Zimbabwe – where he reportedly discussed swapping oil for uranium ore – and UNSC-member Uganda.

The State Department official quoted by AFP said that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had called Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni during Ahmadinejad’s visit, and that Mr. Museveni said he would “raise certain issues with Iran and help them understand what their responsibilities are.”

Uganda did not indicate its position after being wooed by both Iran and the US, which has been engaged for months in building support for new sanctions.

Austria unmoved by Iran's overtures

Handling the Europe portfolio, Mr. Mottaki was in Vienna on Sunday to meet with Yukiya Amano, head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog, on reviving a stalled nuclear fuel swap deal first put forward in October.

Mottaki called for “a new beginning, for new talks.” But diplomats said he made little progress, and a statement from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) noted only that the 2.5-hour meeting, requested by Iran, was “held is a business-like atmosphere.”

The Iranian minister also got little traction with Austria, which holds a non-permanent UNSC seat.

“[Sanctions] will be the consequence if something does not change on the Iranian side,” said Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, who also criticized Iran’s human rights record during a joint press conference with Mottaki. He said new suggestions from Iran regarding the fuel swap did not appear sufficient to stop moves toward sanctions.

“The clock is ticking, time is running out for Iran,” Mr. Spindelegger said.

Mottaki calls for more democratic Security Council

Mottaki said talk of sanctions was “unjust” and called on UNSC members to be “independent” when it came to a vote. On Monday Mottaki moved on to Bosnia, which holds another non-permanent UNSC seat.

“We do believe that the Security Council should try to democratize itself, to give the chance to all members to think and consider and make decisions on the basis of their own analysis,” Mr. Mottaki said in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital.

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