On the eve of an expected United Nations Security Council vote for new sanctions against Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned world powers against jeopardizing a one-time “opportunity” to engage Iran on its nuclear program.
“The US government and its allies are mistaken if they think they can brandish the stick of [a] resolution and then sit down to talk with us – such a thing will not happen,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said during a regional security summit taking place in Istanbul this week.
Still on the table, but with a muted response from the West so far, is a nuclear fuel swap deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil in Tehran on May 17. In the deal, Iran would send about half its homemade low-enriched uranium to Turkey, and receive higher-enriched reactor fuel from a third party, which has not yet been named.
The deal, which does not require Iran to comply with UN resolutions against further enrichment, is meant as a confidence-building step toward resolving questions about whether Iran's nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes.
“The meeting in Tehran created an opportunity for the US administration and for its allies … and we still hope that they will be able to use this opportunity,” the Iranian president said. “[T]hat opportunity will not be repeated.”
Iranian officials have sent mixed messages in recent weeks about whether a fourth round of sanctions would prompt it to cancel the fuel swap. The Iranian president’s comments did not explicitly rule out continuing with the swap if the sanctions vote goes ahead. Turkish diplomats say privately Iran must to follow through to avoid further isolation.
UN poised to approve fourth round of sanctions
The 15-member UN Security Council (UNSC) is expected to support a new round of sanctions against Iran, although Turkey, Brazil, and Lebanon are not likely to vote in favor of the resolution. They argue that previous sanctions have failed to alter Iran’s nuclear drive.
The US has spearheaded the months-long diplomatic effort to impose the sanctions – this time widening the net against companies, institutions, and senior figures and officers in Iran linked to nuclear and missile programs. Reportedly named in the annex of the draft resolution is Mojtaba Khamenei, the most powerful son of Iran’s supreme religious leader, who played a key role in the violent suppression of opposition protests after Iran’s disputed presidential elections last year.
Speaking in Istanbul, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the latest set of sanctions were “practically agreed upon,” and diplomats have told reporters that a vote could come Wednesday after further closed-door meetings at the UN later Tuesday.
“Our point of view is that these decisions should not be excessive and should not put the Iranian people in a complicated position which would put up barriers on the path to peaceful nuclear energy,” Mr. Putin said.
Iran has long counted on Russia – which is building Iran’s first nuclear power reactor at Bushehr in a $1 billion project – as well as China to shield it from more stringent UNSC sanctions. Both countries can veto any UNSC resolution. But Russia-Iran ties have cooled this spring – the latest casualty in Iran's history of alienating allies.
Ahmadinejad recently lashed out at his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, for challenging Iran. He reissued his warning Tuesday, saying that Moscow “must be careful not to be alongside the enemies of the Iranian nation.”
IAEA calls Iran a 'special case'
Iran’s controversial nuclear program has for years been near the top of the agenda for the UN’s nuclear watchdog, as Tehran has sought to prove that the sole aim of its program is to peacefully produce nuclear power. The US and many European nations suspect Iran wants to build nuclear weapons.
On Monday, Yukiya Amano, the head of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), singled out Iran as a “special case” because Iran was a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – unlike non-signatory Israel, which has been subject to increasing calls for it to sign the treaty and give up its own secret nuclear arsenal.
“Iran is a special case because, among other things, of the existence of issues related to possible military dimensions to its nuclear program,” Mr. Amano said during the opening of a week-long meeting of the IAEA’s 35-nation Governing Board in Vienna.
Iran has officially notified the IAEA of the nuclear swap deal, and Amano said he is still waiting for a response from the US, among others, which must approve the deal before logistics of the exchange can be worked out.
Amano said there were “differences” between the Turkey-Brazil-Iran deal and a similar US-backed IAEA exchange offered last October, because Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium had since doubled in size. That's part of why the US has been reluctant to agree to the new deal, which will leave Iran with enough or close to enough uranium to make a nuclear weapon rather than buying some time for negotiating without fear of a bomb being developed.
Ahmadinejad decries 'unbalanced' global order
From Iran’s perspective, the swap deal was a first step to redress imbalances in the global security structure that favor a handful of powerful nations.
“The trilateral meeting between Iran, Turkey, and Brazil was beyond the settlement of a minor issue,” Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday, making clear that the summit had broad regional ramifications. “Apart from the implications and effects of the nuclear issue, I should say that was the beginning of a process, and a new way, the beginning of a change in the unbalanced international order.”
Ahmadinejad spoke out against the UNSC, calling it “undemocratic” and a tool for the five permanent members – the US, Britain, France, China, and Russia – to “rule the entire world.” He has frequently declared the failure and collapse of Western-style liberalism, democracy and economic order.
“In most decisions of the Security Council, most non-permanent members and some permament members say, ‘We are under the pressures of the United States,’” said Ahmadinejad.
“If the government of the United States and some of its allies think that, like 60 years ago, they can continue to intimidate and to exercise unilateralism, that period is over,” he added. “Insisting on an outdated system is in fact going to bring the death of this system more quickly.”