Time for a nuclear samba
By Pepe Escobar
ASIA TIMES, May 6 — It does not necessarily take two to samba — but if you samba as a group the result is much more infectious. Brazil has advanced a proposal to unblock the Iranian nuclear dossier that is in fact the common view among the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China), the emerging geopolitical counter-power to United States hegemony.
Iran has all but agreed that Brazil should be the mediator between Tehran and the United Nations — rather than the axis of the U.S. Britain and France inside the UN Security Council, plus Germany — to finally settle the Iranian nuclear dossier. According to the Fars news agency, after his visit early this week to New York, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, in a phone call with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, told him that Iran had agreed with the Brazilian proposal for a nuclear fuel swap deal for the Tehran research reactor, which produces medical isotopes for cancer treatment. The proposal will be discussed in detail when Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva visits Tehran by the end of next week.
The Brazilian government — on a "soft" collision course with the Barack Obama administration — has been positioning itself as a mediator for some time. The nuclear swap was first proposed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) late last year in Vienna. The idea was for Iran to transfer the bulk of its low enriched uranium abroad and have access to nuclear fuel rods supplied by France.
The negotiation stalled after Tehran proposed that the swap might take place in Japan, Brazil or Turkey. Brazil's Lula, by the end of April, suggested the better idea was for the swap to take place in a country neighboring Iran. Then Tehran settled on its own island of Kish. The swap inside its own borders was considered by Iran as a question of national sovereignty. The U.S. and the Europeans rejected it.
Ahmadinejad's position on the swap — which is the position of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as well as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps — developed just as the Iranian president, in New York, publicly refused the U.S./European Union tactic of always bundling together nuclear weapons and use of nuclear energy in the same discussion. In a call that rang across the developing world, Ahmadinejad pulled no punches. He denounced the Security Council and the IAEA as being manipulated against non-nuclear states and expressly demanded the world to cease development of nuclear weapons and to ban production, storage, proliferation, maintenance and use of nuclear weapons.
Looks like the UN apparently was paying attention. Apparently. On Wednesday, the five permanent Security Council members, in a joint statement, supported the idea of making the Middle East a nuclear-weapons-free zone. That would let the (nuclear) cat out of the bag — forcing Israel to declare itself a nuclear power and join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The chances of this happening under a Benjamin Netanyahu government are slim.
In fact, Washington paid only lip service to this nuclear-free wishful thinking because it is avidly courting the Arab vote to back up a Security Council fourth round of sanctions against Iran. It remains to be seen whether Arab states, mostly U.S. clients, will be duped by this. They do want a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East for real, Israel included.
Egypt — which chairs the powerful 118-nation Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) — has circulated a proposal to the 189 signatories of the NPT calling for a conference by 2011 on turning the Middle East into a nuclear-weapons-free zone. Inevitably, the U.S. is now trying to persuade Egypt to "soften" its tone and basically wait and see.
The non-aligned countries in the developing world, as well as the BRICs, may have understood the "real" danger behind the (non-existent) Iranian bomb: it is Israel's behavior for decades that has carried the threat of a nuclear war in the Middle East, not a non-existent Iranian "bomb."
And then there's the ever-shifting sanctions front. What is now clear is what was already clear last month: no new sanctions before July, if at all. Both Russia and China are turning the U.S.-drafted sanctions package into sand. BRIC member Brazil, alongside Turkey, the current non-veto power Security Council members, also don't want sanctions.
All eyes now focus on the Brazil-Iran meeting late next week. If there's a global politician that can breach the enormous divide between U.S./European aggressiveness and the military dictatorship of the mullahatariat, it is Lula. He's from the West, he's from the global south and he's a hell of a charming negotiator. The time has come for a real nuclear samba.
— Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).