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Ten The Art of Taking Yes for an Answer ‘We could not take yes for an answer. —Senior Obama administration official, September 2010 fier months of diplomatic wrangling with hostile friendly elements and states alike, the Obama admin istration was finally on the verge of passing a UN Security Council resolution sanctioning Iran's mo SBkaclear activities. Concessions had been given to Russians and Chinese; pressure from Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Com gress had been heeded; Iranian maneuvers to influence the vote hs been countered; and a plan of action with the EU had been agreed upon. All that remained were the formalities. But in that last moment, Washington miscalculated the diplo- matic skills of two up-and-coming states—Brazil and ‘Turkey—and their desire to demonstrate the ability to take on diplomatic lenges usually reserved for the great powers. Both had followed the Iranian nuclear fle for some time and both elevated their efforts assist in finding a solution once the muclear swap deal failed to traction in the fall of 2009. At first they were encouraged to help. Bi by the time the pressure of the sanctions track overshadowed the diplomacy track, their involvement and mediation efforts beca increasingly problematic for the Obama administration, whic feared that the Iranians would only use Brazil and Turkey to split the Security Council, breaking the consensus on sanetions that Ob: Thing Ys for an Answer 13 had spent a considerable amount of political capital to achieve. On May 15,2010, Brazilian president Lui Infcio Lula da Silva traveled to Iran with an entourage of some three hundred Brazilian business- 1 on Te was his first vist there, and he would seek Iran's ae ment reer the nuclear fuel swap in what the Obama administaton and French president Nicolas Sarkory described as the “last big shot at agement.” Soon thereafter, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his energetic foreign minister ‘Ahmet Davutoglu, joined Lula in an effort to convince Iran ship out its low-enriched eanium (LEU), Two days later, Lula and Erdogan stunned the U.S. and the world—they had a deal.! Contrary to expectations, and arguably to the hopes of some, they aueceeded in convincing the Lranian government 10 auFee £9 ideal based on the American benchmarks—that 1200 kilograms of Iranian LEU would be sent out in one shipment, and Tran would weve fuel pads for its ‘Tehran Research Reactor roughly twelve vronths later. Fora moment, itlooked as if diplomacy had succeeded fhe all. But what could have been viewed as a diplomatic break- through—with Iran blinking first ane succumbing (0 ‘American de- nands-—was instead treated as an effort to sabotage the new and higher objective of imposing sanetions. The twisted dance of hos- filty and missed opportunities between the U.S. and Iran that Obama hoped to end had just come fll circle—and all within the first sixteen months of his presidency. The “New” Kids on the Block Unlike other actors involved in the Iranian nuclear file, Brazil and “Turkey were two ofthe few states that pressed the Obama admin- vation to pursue more robust diplomacy rather chan sanctio’ Both are rising regional powers whose new and asserive foreign policy profiles have fueled the inevitable fevions that emerge be- tween great and middle powers as the latter seck opportunities to “ahance their role in international affairs. In the ease of Brazil, ten- Taking Yes foran Answer sions had been brewing for a few years between Washington and Brasilia not only over President Lula’s posture in Latin America, but increasingly over the Middle East in general and Iran in particular During the Bush administration, Washington witnessed how rela- tions between Brazil and Iran warmed while the Brazilians became more vocal in their criticism of U.S. policies in the Middle East. The USS. embassy in Brasilia regularly sent cables back to Washington warning of the left-wing Brazilian government's flirtation with Teh- ran’s anti-imperialist messages. Washington viewed Brasil as unin formed about the realities of the Middle East, and its many efforts to sensitize Brasilia had been rebuffed. The Brazilian foreign ministry felt no need to “ask permission of the United States in carrying out foreign policy initiatives” and warned that “the United States should expect more Brazilian statements on Middle East issues.” Brazil's position on the nuclear issue had given U.S. policy makers a headache for some time. For several years Brasilia opposed Washington's efforts to get the IAEA to refer Iran to the Security Council until the vote within the agency had become a foregone conclusion by 2006, and it did not support a UN Security Council vote to condemn Iranian nuclear activities until Iran missed the UN: mandated deadline for allowing international inspectors to visit sus pected nuclear facilities. In retrospect, Brazil's foreign minister Celso Amorim, even expressed regret over that vote. “Today, I doubs iffwe did the right thing,” he told me, as he contemplated how tha decision paved the way for the current stalemate. In spite ofthat vote Lala publicly defended Iran’s record of compliance with the IAEA and its right to enrichment on numerous occasions. “Iran has the right to conduct its own experiments provided they are for peacefal purposes... so far Iran has not committed any crime against the direction of the United Nations in relation to nuclear weapons.” At the heart of the matter was Brazil’s own nuclear program which was more advanced than the Iranian program and did not receive as much attention from IAEA inspectors. Moreover, the Bra- zilians feared that UN action on the Iranian nuclear file would set 2