Attack complicates new sanctions on Iran
By Barbara Slavin
WASHINGTON - Israel's lethal confrontation with pro-Palestinian activists in
the Mediterranean is complicating United States strategy toward Iran and
undermining the likelihood of a solid sanctions victory at the United Nations.
US officials sought on Tuesday to separate the two issues and said they are
still actively pursuing a fourth round of punitive measures against Iran in the
UN Security Council.
"We intend to continue to move ahead a resolution in New York focused squarely
on the reality - that Iran has thus far been unwilling to engage with the
international community on the concerns that the IAEA [International Atomic
Energy Agency] underscored again yesterday," Under Secretary of State for
Political Affairs Bill Burns told an audience at the Council on Foreign
Relations in Washington.
He was referring to the latest report by the IAEA that cited Iran for
continuing to amass a stockpile of potential bomb fuel and failing to clarify
aspects of its nuclear program that could have military applications.
However, the incident in the Mediterranean, in which Israeli commandos killed
at least nine activists, has overshadowed the Iran question and made it less
likely that the US will gain broad support for more sanctions.
The US labored for months to gain Russian and Chinese backing for a resolution
that would restrict Iranian arms imports, authorize inspection of Iranian cargo
and make it harder for Iranian banks to open new branches abroad.
Russia and China are among the five permanent members of the Security Council
that have veto power. Passage of a resolution requires no veto, plus support
from at least four other members of the 15-nation body.
Turkey is unlikely to be among them. Brazil and Lebanon are also potential "no"
votes. It is possible that other members such as Mexico will abstain. Three
previous sanctions resolutions against Iran had much broader backing and no
Turkey, which has been trying to assume a major diplomatic role in the Middle
East, is the chief opponent to the Iran resolution. It is also the home port
for the ships that tried to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. Most of the
fatalities were Turkish nationals.
The flotilla fiasco - which Israel contends came in self-defense when their
forces were set on with pipes and clubs - has strained already troubled
Turkish-Israeli ties to the breaking point, with Turkish officials accusing
Israel of "state terrorism".
The Turkish media on Tuesday excoriated Israel. A columnist in the newspaper
Hurriyet said that Israel's "banditry" shows that "Israel never treats the
Palestinian people fairly and humanely. We do not believe that Turkish-Israel
relations can improve as long as the current governments in both countries
remain in charge."
Another newspaper, Radikal, called Israel a "rogue" state.
Turkish media also suggested that Israel acted out of anger at Turkey's efforts
to broker a nuclear deal with Iran. The leaders of Turkey and Brazil mediated a
deal in May under which Iran promised to send to Turkey 1,200 kilograms of
low-enriched uranium. In return, Iran would receive fuel for a Tehran reactor
that makes medical isotopes.
The deal is similar to one advanced by the Obama administration last autumn.
But the US reaction has been one of annoyance, not gratitude.
Burns said on Tuesday that the US was consulting with Russia and France and
planned "at some point" to send a letter about the Turkish-Brazilian-Iranian
plan to the head of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano. Burns suggested that the US felt no
urgency to do so.
"I can't give you an exact date" when the US will respond, he said.
Burns said that the Iranian offer did not address "the core concern" - Iran's
unwillingness to suspend uranium enrichment, which the UN has repeatedly
Burns added that the plan advanced last year with US backing - which would have
sent Iranian low enriched uranium to Russia and France - was a
"confidence-building measure", not a solution to the nuclear crisis.
This confidence-building measure "has diminished over time for the simple fact
that Iran's stockpile of low enriched uranium has increased considerably," he
said. Last October, 1,200 kilograms represented three-quarters of Iran's
stockpile, he said; now it's about half.
Still, the Turkish-Brazilian-Iranian deal has attracted support not only
internationally, but also among US non-proliferation and Iran experts.
Nine analysts including a man who once served in Burns' position - Thomas
Pickering - issued a statement Tuesday urging the so-called "Iran Six" - the
United States, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany, which have
coordinated policy on Iran - to "take advantage of this opportunity as the
first step in a broader dialogue that could include further confidence building
Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council and one of the
signatories of the statement, warned that "there may not be many more
opportunities" for the US and Iran to engage.
"Obviously, nothing is perfect but the task here is to try to provide
opportunities to sit down, talk and establish a more robust procedure for
diplomacy," he said. Talks, Parsi said, could also deal with regional issues
such as Iraq and Afghanistan and with Iran's poor record on human rights.
With Israel's attack on the aid convoy, however, Iran is now in the unusual
position of being able to lecture Tel Aviv about rights abuses.