Iran Winning Friends Around the World

Jim Brown
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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was met by Brazilian President Lula Da Silva and before the topic could even be discussed the president said we will "not push Iran into a corner." The president rebuffed a U.S. appeal for new sanctions saying, "we will not bow down" to gathering international pressure.

So, I wonder how Hillary is liking her job today? After being slammed by nearly every head of state she has met with over the last month she has got to be thinking about a new career.

In Brazil Silvia is an outspoken opponent of sanctions and Brazil currently sits on the U.N. Security Council, which will be asked to approve the toughest sanctions yet against Iran in the coming months. "It is not prudent to push Iran against a wall," Silva told reporters hours before meeting with Clinton. "The prudent thing is to establish negotiations." Without even meeting with Clinton he already set the ground rules for the discussion.

Clinton told a news conference she respects Brazil's position but thinks if there is any possibility of negotiating with Iran, it would happen only after a new round of sanctions. "The door is open for negotiations. We never slammed it shut," Clinton said. "But we don't see anybody, even in the far-off distance, walking toward it." Also, "We see an Iran that runs to Brazil, an Iran that runs to Turkey, an Iran that runs to China, telling different things to different people," Clinton said angrily.

Silva is scheduled to visit Tehran on May 15, and U.S. officials who participated in Clinton's meetings on Wednesday suggested they would like to see the Security Council vote on sanctions before then. If that happens, the officials said, Silva might be able to serve as an informal envoy who could urge the Iranians to negotiate despite new penalties.

Silva, who hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Brazil last year, said he would have a "frank" conversation with Ahmadinejad about Iran's nuclear program. "I want for Iran the same thing I want for Brazil: to use the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes," he said. "If Iran agrees with that, Iran will have the support of Brazil."

The U.S. officials said that despite clear differences at the moment, the Brazilians assured Clinton their current position was not "etched in stone."

Iran already is under three sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions for refusing to stop uranium enrichment - a potential pathway to nuclear weapons - and other activities, generating concerns that it seeks to build a bomb. It insists it is enriching only to make nuclear fuel for an envisaged reactor network.

Another round of sanctions could pass without Brazil's vote. But the United States and other backers of new sanctions want as wide a backing as possible to show Iran that its behavior is costing it friendships around the globe.

The U.S. sent proposals for a new round of sanctions to Russia and China. These new sanctions would further target the Revolutionary Guards and toughen existing sanctions against shipping, banking and insurance. Russia has agreed on the framework and elements of the new sanctions but China has not yet responded.

The six countries with veto power on the Security Council are the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. The revised proposals build on existing sanctions in an attempt to get Iran to back off its stepped up enrichment program.

The new sanctions require member countries to freeze the assets of anyone involved with the Revolutionary Guard and ban travel by any individuals connected to the Guard.

The group wants new sanctions in place before the five-year review of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty starts at U.N. headquarters in May. The treaty was first signed in 1968.

All six countries have signed the prior three sanctions and Russia has stressed that unity be maintained. That means the other five countries will have to lean on China to get their cooperation. China does not wan to anger Iran because they are a major energy supplier to China.

Italy arrested seven suspected Iranian intelligence agents on Tuesday. The seven were arrested on suspicion of weapons trafficking to Iran. One of the Iranians was a journalist accredited to Rome's foreign press club. In all two Iranians and five Italians were arrested in joint raids in several cities across Italy. Warrants were issued for two other Iranians that escaped the net.

Italy said all four Iranians are believed to be members of the Iranian secret services. Since June, police had tapped into a ring that exported weapons, ordnance and explosives to Iran from Italy via third countries. Italian police said the operation stopped the export of a large quantity of tracer bullets, explosives from Eastern Europe, and material for incendiary bombs, Reuters reported from Milan. Police worked with counterparts in Britain, Switzerland, and Romania also stopped a flow of German-made optical equipment and military jackets.

The EU joined the sanctions battle on Wednesday saying it was "ready to engage with Iran in order to reach a negotiated solution to the issue." Also, "Iran's persistent failure to meet its international obligations require a clear response," the EU said, in a statement read on the third day of the IAEA's 35-member board of governors meeting in Vienna. The EU "would support action by the UNSC if Iran continues not to cooperate with the international community over its nuclear program."

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, speaking in Paris on Monday after meeting French President Nicolas Sarkozy - who has become Iran?s toughest critic in Europe - said Moscow would back new sanctions if they didn't lead to a humanitarian crisis in Iran. But Russia has been increasingly raising concerns about Iran's nuclear program, and last week, an official in Moscow stated for the first time that those concerns were behind a delay in delivery of Russia's sophisticated S-300 air defense system to Iran. That delay was at the request of the U.S.

I believe the many different facets of the Iranian problem are working together to build the Iranian security premium back into the price of oil. We are still a long way from having the next set of sanctions but popular support is growing around the world. With Iran reminding everyone earlier this week that they can close the straits of Hormuz and cutoff 40% of the world's supply of oil it shows Iran is aware of its weakening position. Even with friends in Brazil, Turkey and China, Iran is slowly watching dozens of other nations move into the "unfriendly" column.

I believe it will take some kind of oil embargo or attack to stop this process. I only hope I am long crude when it starts.

Jim Brown

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