Robin McKie writes: Water is the driving force of all nature, Leonardo da Vinci claimed. Unfortunately for our planet, supplies are now running dry – at an alarming rate. The world’s population continues to soar but that rise in numbers has not been matched by an accompanying increase in supplies of fresh water.
The consequences are proving to be profound. Across the globe, reports reveal huge areas in crisis today as reservoirs and aquifers dry up. More than a billion individuals – one in seven people on the planet – now lack access to safe drinking water.
Last week in the Brazilian city of São Paulo, home to 20 million people, and once known as the City of Drizzle,drought got so bad that residents began drilling through basement floors and car parks to try to reach groundwater. City officials warned last week that rationing of supplies was likely soon. Citizens might have access to water for only two days a week, they added.
In California, officials have revealed that the state has entered its fourth year of drought with January this year becoming the driest since meteorological records began. At the same time, per capita water use has continued to rise. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: The Amazon rainforest has degraded to the point where it is losing its ability to benignly regulate weather systems, according to a stark new warning from one of Brazil’s leading scientists.
In a new report, Antonio Nobre, researcher in the government’s space institute, Earth System Science Centre, says the logging and burning of the world’s greatest forest might be connected to worsening droughts – such as the one currently plaguing São Paulo – and is likely to lead eventually to more extreme weather events.
The study, which is a summary drawing from more than 200 existing papers on Amazonian climate and forest science, is intended as a wake-up call.
“I realised the problem is much more serious than we realised, even in academia and the reason is that science has become so fragmented. Atmospheric scientists don’t look at forests as much as they should and vice versa,” said Nobre, who wrote the report for a lay audience. “It’s not written in academic language. I don’t need to preach to the converted. Our community is already very alarmed at what is going on.”
A draft seen by the Guardian warns that the “vegetation-climate equilibrium is teetering on the brink of the abyss.” If it tips, the Amazon will start to become a much drier savanna, which calamitous consequences. [Continue reading…]
Bloomberg reports: Brazil is planning a $185 million project to lay fiber-optic cable across the Atlantic Ocean, which could entail buying gear from multiple vendors. What it won’t need: U.S.-made technology.
The cable is being overseen by state-owned telecommunications company Telecomunicacoes Brasileiras SA, known as Telebras. Even though Telebras’s suppliers include U.S. companies such as Cisco Systems Inc., Telebras President Francisco Ziober Filho said in an interview that the cable project can be built without any U.S. companies.
The potential to exclude U.S. vendors illustrates the fallout that is starting to unfold from revelations last year that the U.S. National Security Agency spied on international leaders like Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff and Germany’s Angela Merkel to gather intelligence on terror suspects worldwide.
“The issue of data integrity and vulnerability is always a concern for any telecom company,” Ziober said. The NSA leaks last year from contractor Edward Snowden prompted Telebras to step up audits of all foreign-made equipment to check for security vulnerabilities and accelerated the country’s move toward technological self-reliance, he said. [Continue reading…]
Pankaj Mishra writes: Rarely has an acronym led such a charmed life as BRICS. Casually invented by former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. economist and Bloomberg View columnist Jim O’Neill to label emerging markets of promise, it actually brought together leaders from the disparate countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Last week in Brazil, they took a decisive step toward building institutions that could plausibly challenge the long geopolitical and economic ascendancy of the West.
The New Development Bank, headquartered in Shanghai, would finance infrastructure and development projects. This would be the biggest rival yet to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, as well as the economic architecture designed by the U.S. in Bretton Woods in 1944.
There are good reasons why China is working hard to establish it. The BRICS countries contain more than 40 percent of the world’s population and account for a quarter of the world’s economy. China itself may shortly bypass the U.S. to become the world’s biggest economy (based on domestic purchasing power). Yet leadership of the World Bank and the IMF remains the exclusive preserve of the U.S. and western European countries.
The promised reforms to these institutions have not materialized; China now clearly wants to build its own global system with the help of the BRICS. A new “special relationship” with its closest economic partner in the West — Germany — and the recent establishment of Frankfurt as a clearinghouse for the renminbi is part of the same Chinese attempt to break the hegemony of the dollar as a payments and reserve currency. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: Dilma Rousseff was thoroughly charmed.
Brazil had been struggling for years to decide which company to choose for a $4 billion-plus fighter jet contract, one of the world’s most sought-after defense deals and one that would help define the country’s strategic alliances for decades to come.
But Rousseff, the leftist president known for being sometimes gruff and even standoffish with foreign leaders, was thrilled after a 90-minute meeting in Brasilia on May 31 with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.
After Biden’s reassurances that the United States would not block crucial transfers of technological know-how to Brazil if it bought the jets, she was closer than ever to selecting Chicago-based Boeing to supply its fighter, the F/A-18 Super Hornet.
“She’s ready to sign on the dotted line,” one of her senior aides told Reuters at the time. “This is going to happen soon.”
And then along came Edward Snowden.
Documents leaked by the former National Security Agency contractor, released in the weeks after Biden’s visit, ended up enraging Rousseff and completely changing her plans, several Brazilian officials told Reuters. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: Brazil and Germany are spearheading efforts at the United Nations to protect the privacy of electronic communications in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations and allegations of mass US spying.
Diplomats from the two countries, which have both been targeted by America’s National Security Agency, are leading efforts by a coalition of nations to draft a UN general assembly resolution calling for the right to privacy on the internet.
Although non-binding, the resolution would be one of the strongest condemnations of US snooping to date.
“This resolution will probably have enormous support in the GA [general assembly] since no one likes the NSA spying on them,” a western diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
The Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, has previously cancelled a state visit to Washington over the revelation that the NSA was scooping up large amounts of Brazilian communications data, including from the state-run oil company Petrobras. The drafting of the UN resolution was confirmed by the country’s foreign ministry.
The Associated Press quoted a diplomat who said the language of the resolution would not be “offensive” to any nation, particularly the US.
He added that it would expand the right to privacy guaranteed by the international covenant on civil and political rights, which went into force in 1976. [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: More than 250,000 anti-government protesters have again taken to the streets in several Brazilian cities and engaged police in isolated intense conflicts. Demonstrators vowed to stay in the streets until concrete steps are taken to reform the political system.
Across Brazil protesters gathered to denounce legislation known as PEC 37 that would limit the power of federal prosecutors to investigate crimes. Many fear the laws would hinder attempts to jail corrupt politicians.
Federal prosecutors were behind the investigation into the biggest corruption case in Brazil’s history, the so-called “mensalão” cash-for-votes scheme that came to light in 2005 and involved top aides of former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva buying off members of congress to vote for their legislation.
Conor Foley writes: Perhaps the most politically significant moment in the two weeks of popular protests that have shaken Brazil came at the opening ceremony for the Confederations Cup last Saturday. In Brasilia’s brand new football stadium, the crowd rose to their feet, turned their backs on the national team and loudly booed the president, Dilma Rousseff.
Hundreds of thousands have marched in demonstrations protesting against the rising cost of living, government corruption and the costs of staging major “prestige” events such as the World Cup and the Olympics.
Political protests are nothing new in Brazil, nor is the extreme violence with which they are often dealt by the police. What marks the current wave out is not just that they are bigger than usual, but a sense that they represent a much broader and still not entirely articulated sentiment. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: It has long been a source of unparalleled pride, a common bond uniting a disparate nation, something Brazilians could always point to — even in times of economic ruin or authoritarian rule — that made them the best in the world.
But these days, Brazil, the most successful nation in World Cup history, home to legends like Pelé and Ronaldo, is finding little comfort in “the beautiful game.”
In the most unexpected of ways, Brazil’s obsession with soccer has become a potent symbol of what ails the country. Ever since huge protests began sweeping across Brazil this week, demonstrators have taken to the streets by the hundreds of thousands to vent their rage at political leaders of every stripe, at the reign of corruption, at the sorry state of public services.
The protests have grown so large and disruptive that on Friday, Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, put forth measures to address some of the grievances.
But pointing to the billions of dollars spent on stadiums at the expense of basic needs, a growing number of protesters are telling fans around the globe to do what would once have seemed unthinkable: to boycott the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. In a sign of how thoroughly the country has been turned upside down, even some of the nation’s revered soccer heroes have become targets of rage for distancing themselves from the popular uprising.
“Pelé and Ronaldo are making money off the Cup with their advertising contracts, but what about the rest of the nation?” asked one protester, Gabriela Costa, 24, a university student.
Protesters lambasted both men after Pelé, whose full name is Edson Arantes do Nascimento, called on Brazilians to “forget the protests” and a video circulated on social media showing Ronaldo, whose name is Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima, now a television commentator and sports marketing strategist, contending that World Cups are accomplished “with stadiums, not hospitals.”
With hordes of protesters rallying outside soccer matches, clashing with the police and setting vehicles on fire, FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, took pains to reassure the world on Friday that it had “full trust” in Brazil’s ability to provide security and had not considered canceling either the 2014 World Cup or the Confederations Cup, a major international tournament currently taking place in Brazil.
But the fact that soccer officials even had to address the issue was a major embarrassment to Brazilian officials, who had fought so hard to land international events like the World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games in order to showcase what a stable, democratic power their nation had become.
The Observer reports: Trundling along the dirt roads of the Amazon, the giant logging lorry dwarfed the vehicle of the investigators following it. The trunks of nine huge trees were piled high on the back – incontrovertible proof of the continuing destruction of the world’s greatest rainforest and its most endangered tribe, the Awá.
Yet as they travelled through the jungle early this year, the small team from Funai – Brazil’s National Indian Foundation – did not dare try to stop the loggers; the vehicle was too large and the loggers were almost certainly armed. All they could do was video the lorry and add the film to the growing mountain of evidence showing how the Awá – with only 355 surviving members, more than 100 of whom have had no contact with the outside world – are teetering on the edge of extinction.
It is a scene played out throughout the Amazon as the authorities struggle to tackle the powerful illegal logging industry. But it is not just the loss of the trees that has created a situation so serious that it led a Brazilian judge, José Carlos do Vale Madeira, to describe it as “a real genocide”. People are pouring on to the Awá’s land, building illegal settlements, running cattle ranches. Hired gunmen – known as pistoleros – are reported to be hunting Awá who have stood in the way of land-grabbers. Members of the tribe describe seeing their families wiped out. Human rights campaigners say the tribe has reached a tipping point and only immediate action by the Brazilian government to prevent logging can save the tribe.
This week Survival International will launch a new campaign to highlight the plight of the Awá, backed by Oscar-winning actor Colin Firth. In a video to be launched on Wednesday, Firth will ask the Brazilian government to take urgent action to protect the tribe. The 51-year-old, who starred in last year’s hit movie The King’s Speech, and came to prominence playing Mr Darcy in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, delivers an appeal to camera calling on Brazil’s minister of justice to send in police to drive out the loggers.
The Awá are one of only two nomadic hunter-gathering tribes left in the Amazon. According to Survival, they are now the world’s most threatened tribe, assailed by gunmen, loggers and hostile settler farmers. [Continue reading…]
Peter Beinart facetiously congratulates Benjamin Netanyahu now that he’s thwarted President Obama’s Middle East peace efforts.
Now all you have to worry about is…Argentina. You see, Argentina just recognized a Palestinian state on 1967 borders. Brazil did so days earlier. Uruguay and Paraguay are expected to follow suit, and then Bolivia and Ecuador. Oh, and you have a small problem with rock stars: last year Elvis Costello and Carlos Santana cancelled Israel gigs because of the occupation, and more seem poised to follow. Dock workers are another worry: from Sweden to South Africa, they keep protesting the occupation and the Gaza blockade by refusing to offload Israeli goods. And then there’s Hanna King, the 17-year-old Swarthmore freshmen who along with four other young American Jews disrupted your speech last month in New Orleans because, as she told Haaretz, “settlements…are contrary to the Jewish values that we learnt in Jewish day school.” You should probably expect young Jews like her to protest all your big American speeches from now on.
I know, I know. You consider all this unfair, and in some ways it is. But when you’ve been occupying another people for 43 years, confiscating more and more of their land and denying them citizenship while providing it to your own settlers, it doesn’t do much good to insist that things are worse in Burma. Your only effective argument against the Elvis Costellos and Hanna Kings was that you were trying to end the occupation. That’s where Obama came in. As long as the U.S. president seemed to have a chance of brokering a deal, his efforts held the boycotters and protesters and Palestinian state-recognizers at bay. When Brazil and Argentina recognized Palestinian independence, the American Jewish Committee’s David Harris declared it “fundamentally unhelpful to the Arab-Israeli peace process.” But what if there is no peace process? What’s your argument then? Maybe you can tell the Ecuadorians that Israel deserves Hebron because Abraham bought land there from Ephron the Hittite.
Rest assured, the Obama administration won’t go along with these efforts to punish and isolate you. It may even denounce them. But as you may have noticed, the world doesn’t listen to America like it used to. Non-Americans have grown tired of hearing that only the U.S. can broker a deal, especially because you’ve now shown that to be false. And so the dam preventing countries and institutions from legitimizing Palestine and delegitimizing Israel may soon break. You didn’t like the American way? Get ready for the Brazilian way.
President Obama is either a liar or he has lost control of his own administration.
In a letter he sent to the president of Brazil in late April, Obama spelled out the terms on which the US would support a diplomatic initiative by Brazil and Turkey who hoped to revive a nuclear swap agreement that Iran had rejected last fall. Obama expressed his skepticism that Iran would make the necessary concessions. He was proved wrong, but then instead of welcoming Lula and Erdogan’s diplomatic accomplishment, Secretary Clinton dismissed it out of hand. If she did so with Obama’s consent, he has shown his word is worthless. If she did so on her own initiative, this president has lost his authority as chief executive.
This is what Obama wrote to Lula on April 20, 2010 (emphasis added):
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva
President of the Federative Republic of Brazil
Dear Mr. President:
I want to thank you for our meeting with Turkish PrinIe Miuister Erdogan during the Nuclear Security Summit. We spent some time focused on Iran, the issue of the provision of nuclear fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), and the intent of Brazil and Turkey to work toward finding an acceptable solution. I promised to respond in detail to your ideas. I have carefully considered our discussion, and I would like to offer a detailed explanation of my perspective and suggest a way ahead.
I agree with you that the TRR is an opportunity to pave the way for a broader dialogue in dealing with the more fundamental concerns of the intemational community regarding Iran’s overall nuclear program. From the beginning, I have viewed Iran’ s request as a clear and tangible opportunity to begin to build mutual trust and confidence, and thereby create time and space for a constructive diplomatic process. That is why the United States so strongly supported the proposal put forth by former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General EIBaradei.
The IAEA’s proposal was crafted to be fair and balanced, and for both sides to gain trust and confidence. For us, Iran’s agreement to transfer 1,200 kg of Iran’s low enriched uranium (LEU) out of the country would build confidence and reduce regional tensions by substantially reducing Iran’s LEU stockpile. I want to underscore that this element is of fundamental importance for the United States. For Iran, it would receive the nuclear fuel requested to ensure continued operation of the TRR to produce needed medical isotopes and, by using its own material, Iran would begin to demonstrate peaceful nuclear intent. Notwithstanding Iran’s continuing defiance of five United Nations Security Council resolutions mandating that it cease its enrichment of uranium, we were prepared to support and facilitate action on a proposal that would provide Iran nuclear fuel using uranium enriched by Iran — a demonstration of our willingness to be creative in pursuing a way to build mutual confidence.
During the course of the consultations, we also recognized Iran’s desire for assurances. As a result, my team focused on ensuring that the lAEA’s proposal contained several built-in measures, including a U.S. national declaration of support, to send a clear signal from my government of our willingness to become a direct signatory and potentially even play a more direct role in the fuel production process, a central role for Russia, and the IAEA’s assumption of full custody of the nuclear material throughout the fuel production process. In effect, the IAEA’s proposal offered Iran significant and substantial assurances and commitments from the IAEA, the United States, and Russia. Dr. EI Baradei stated publicly last year that the United States would be assuming the vast majority of the risk in the IAEA’s proposal.
As we discussed, Iran appears to be pursuing a strategy that is designed to create the impression of flexibility without agreeing to actions that can begin to build mutual trust and confidence. We have observed Iran convey hints of flexibility to you and others, but formally reiterate an unacceptable position through official channels to the IAEA. Iran has continued to reject the IAEA’s proposal and insist that Iran retain its low-enriched uranium on its territory until delivery of nuclear fuel. This is the position that Iran formally conveyed to the IABA in January 2010 and again in February.
We understand from you, Turkey and others that Iran continues to propose that Iran would retain its LEU on its territory until there is a simultaneous exchange of its LEU for nuclear fuel. As General Jones noted during our meeting, it will require one year for any amount of nuclear fuel to be produced. Thus, the confidence-building strength of the IAEA’s proposal would be completely eliminated for the United States and several risks would emerge. First, Iran would be able to continue to stockpile LEU throughout this time, which would enable them to acquire an LEU stockpile equivalent to the amount needed for two or three nuclear weapons in a year’ s time. Second, there would be no guarantee that Iran would ultimately agree to the final exchange. Third, IAEA “custody” of lran’s LEU inside of Iran would provide us no measurable improvement over the current situation, and the IAEA cannot prevent Iran from re-assuming control of its uranium at any time.
There is a potentially important compromise that has already been offered. Last November, the IAEA conveyed to Iran our offer to allow Iran to ship its 1,200 kg of LEU to a third country — specifically Turkey — at the outset of the process to be held “in escrow” as a guarantee during the fuel production process that Iran would get back its uranium if we failed to deliver the fuel. Iran has never pursued the “escrow” compromise and has provided no credible explanation for its rejection. I believe that this raises real questions about Iran’s nuclear intentions, if Iran is unwilling to accept an offer to demonstrate that its LEU is for peaceful, civilian purposes. I would urge Brazil to impress upon Iran the opportunity presented by this offer to “escrow” its uranium in Turkey while the nuclear fuel is being produced.
Throughout this process, instead of building confidence Iran has undermined confidence in the way it has approached this opportunity. That is why I question whether Iran is prepared to engage Brazil in good faith, and why I cautioned you during our meeting. To begin a constructive diplomatic process, Iran has to convey to the IAEA a constructive commitment to engagement through official channels — something it has failed to do. Meanwhile, we will pursue sanctions on the timeline that I have outlined. I have also made clear that I will leave the door open to engagement with Iran. As you know, Iran has thus far failed to accept my offer of comprehensive and unconditional dialogue.
I look forward to the next opportunity to see you and discuss these issues as we consider the challenge of Iran’s nuclear program to the security of the international community, including in the U.N. Security Council.
So what did Brazil and Turkey accomplish? An agreement by Iran to do exactly what Obama claimed he was seeking: that Iran would transfer 1200kg of LEU to be held in escrow by Turkey and in return for which, one year later, Iran would receive fuel rods for the TRR.
The US response? Secretary Clinton claimed there were “discrepancies” in the offer. These included that:
There is a recognition on the part of the international community that the agreement that was reached in Tehran a week ago between Iran and Brazil and Turkey only occurred because the Security Council was on the brink of publicly releasing the text of the resolution that we have been negotiating for many weeks. It was a transparent ploy to avoid Security Council action.
That is a truly Kafkaesque statement!
The US and its allies have been mounting diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran to force it to make concessions on the nuclear issue. As soon as Iran makes concessions, the US turns around and says the concessions are a “ploy” to avoid sanctions.
This week the Obama administration made what may come to be seen as a blunder of historic proportions. At a moment when tactical agility was a must, it stayed on course because it lacked the diplomatic finesse to show or perhaps even recognize the difference between being resolute and being inflexible.
The sanctions juggernaut plowed into the Iran diplomatic initiative masterminded by Brazil and Turkey and on the basis that these are “lesser” powers, Washington imagined its own agenda must be unstoppable. Or at least the administration felt compelled to bow in obedience to a fear that shackles every Democratic leader: the fear that flexibility will be seen as a sign of weakness.
Common sense and prudence made it clear that the smart way of responding to the new opening from Iran would have been with a cautious opening in return. Instead, Iran, Turkey and Brazil got the door slammed in their face. The calculation in Washington, no doubt, was that Iran, in its usual tempestuous style would swiftly reject the swap deal in the face of the continued threat of sanctions, and the diplomatic upstarts, Lula and Erdogan, would defer to the old world order.
Instead, it seems that Iran remains intent on seizing the initiative, will stick to the deal it signed and thereby demonstrate to the world that in the long-running nuclear dispute it is the United States that is now the intransigent party.
Turkey’s prime minister is seeking international support for a deal under which Iran would ship much of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office said Saturday he had written to the leaders of 26 countries saying the deal would resolve the nuclear standoff with Iran by way of diplomacy and negotiation. The countries included all permanent and non-permanent members of the UN Security Council.
Iran will submit an official letter to the IAEA on Monday morning conveying its acceptance of the uranium enrichment deal brokered by Turkey and Iran, state-run news agency IRNA reported on Friday, citing a statement by the country’s National Security Council.
“Following the joint declaration by Iran, Turkey and Brazil, permanent representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran at the IAEA officially announced its readiness to submit our country’s letter to the IAEA Chief per paragraph six of the Teheran Declaration,” the statement reportedly read.
Also on Friday, IRNA quoted a top Iranian cleric as saying that the deal was a “powerful response” that “put the ball in the West’s court.” He reportedly stated that far from being a ploy meant to facilitate enrichment for military use, the deal should be seen as a confidence-building measure.
Meanwhile in Turkey, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed hope that the deal reached last week would “open the door to a negotiated settlement” between Iran and Western nations, according to a Reuters report.
Ban reportedly called the enrichment agreement “an important initiative in resolving international tensions over Iran’s nuclear program by peaceful means.” He went on to praise Turkey’s role and cooperation with Brazil in negotiating the deal, stressing that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would have to make its own assessment concerning the issue at hand.
At this point, it looks like Hillary Clinton has driven the United States into a diplomatic ditch.
The American mindset now as always fixes its attention on power and while the US remains the pre-eminent global power it assumes that it must have its way. But this fixation on power blinds Washington to a more important issue — one that provides the foundation for effective diplomacy, namely, trust.
The Turkish commentator, Mustafa Akyol, says:
This issue of trust, I believe, is the key to not just the Iranian nuclear crisis, but also other conflicts in the region, including the Arab-Israeli one. On all these issues, America has all the eye-catching instruments that give her full confidence: The world’s most powerful military, the largest diplomatic corps, and the most sophisticated brain power with plentitude of universities, institutes and think-tanks.
Yet, I am sorry to say, she terribly lacks the trust of the peoples of the Middle East. So, it would be only wise for her to rely more on the regional actors that do have that trust – such as the new Turkey of the 21st century.
Rami G Khouri adds:
The agreement on Iran’s nuclear fuel announced on Monday after mediation by the Turkish and Brazilian governments should be good news for those who seek to use the rule of law to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation. From both the American and Iranian perspectives the political dimension of the current dynamics is more important than the technical one. The accord should remind us that the style and tone in diplomatic processes is as important as substance.
Iran and its international negotiating partners have not reached agreement on Iran’s nuclear programs in the past half-decade, to a large extent because American- and Israeli-led concerns have been translated into an aggressive, accusatory, sanctions-and-threats-based style of diplomacy that Iran in turn has responded to with defiance.
Iran’s crime, in the eyes of its main critics in Washington and Tel Aviv (they are the two that matter most, as other Western powers play only supporting roles), is not primarily that it enriches uranium, but that it defies American-Israeli orders to stop doing so. (The Iranian response, rather reasonable in my view, is that it suspended uranium enrichment half a decade ago and did not receive the promises it expected from the United States and its allies on continuing with its plans for the peaceful use of nuclear technology. So why suspend enrichment again?)
The Iranians are saying, in effect, that this issue is about two things for them, one technical and one political: The technical issue is about the rule of law on nuclear nonproliferation and the right of all countries to use nuclear technology peacefully. The political issue is about treating Iran with respect, and negotiating with it on the basis of two critical phenomena: First, addressing issues of importance to Iran as well as those that matter for the American-Israeli-led states; and, second, actually negotiating with Iran rather than condescendingly and consistently threatening it, accusing it of all sorts of unproven aims, and assuming its guilt before it is given a fair hearing.
The age in which the non-Western world could be expected to show deference to the dictates of the dominant global powers is over. Western leaders must either humbly adapt to a world that has changed or suffer the humiliations that arrogance now invite.
Back in the days when Barack Obama scored political points for setting the right tone and hitting the right notes, this was one of his best lines, it’s significance underlined by the fact that it came in his inauguration speech.
… the world has changed, and we must change with it.
From America the hyperpower to America the adaptive power. From a president who liked to wield a chainsaw to a president who loved basketball — the blundering giant was going to give way to deft leadership, agile and attuned to the moment.
As cynical as I might sound, I still think Obama gets this. I think he understands what the possibility looks like, yet he also seems convinced that seemingly inviolable political realities dictate that he sticks to a script that could have been written for George Bush. Indeed, had it been possible for there to have been a third Bush term, the trajectory set from 2006 onward appeared to have been heading in the direction we have now landed.
So maybe it’s time Obama asked himself this question: does he want to be remembered as a continuation of the past or as a man who actually helped American embrace the future?
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are men who represent the kind of future Obama really should believe in, yet having made himself a slavish tool of Washington’s institutional power, he operates with the calculations and lack of authenticity that have become synonymous with modern Western political leadership. Paradoxically, the art of securing political power now dictates that the power thereby acquired will be insufficient to bring about any significant change.
In spite of this, officials in Washington still harbor the conceit that they hold and are able to move all the major levers of global power — Washington still sees itself as the engine room of global change. No wonder the up-swell of indignation when two “lesser powers” have the audacity to become agents of change in an arena where this administration has thus far been manifestly impotent.
For months, Administration officials–and most U.S.-based Iran analysts–have asserted that the Islamic Republic is too internally conflicted to have a coherent international strategy or make important decisions. Senior Brazilian, Chinese, and Turkish officials who have invested significant amounts of time in substantive discussions with Iranian counterparts argued to Washington for months that a nuclear deal was possible. But Secretary Clinton and others in the Obama Administration thought they knew better–and said so publicly.
In fact, Iran has worked purposefully–dare we say strategically–to cultivate relations with important rising powers, like Brazil and Turkey, as well as China. And, this week, Tehran showed that it can take major decisions. Can the same things be said of the Obama Administration?
President Obama, who came to office professing a new U.S. approach to international engagement, allowed himself to be upstaged by new powers because he has been unwilling to match his rhetoric with truly innovative diplomacy that takes real notice of other countries’ interests.
The world was eager to forgive American arrogance when it appeared it could be more narrowly circumscribed as George Bush’s arrogance, but the heavy-handed approach now being applied by the current administration suggests that as the world changes, America is incapable of changing with it.
Simon Tisdall observes that the emerging realignment of global power does not simply involve America’s diminishing power but also a shift away from the American way of wielding power.
Brazil and Turkey, two leading members of a new premier league of emerging global powers, have a quite different approach. They stress persuasion and compromise. In the case of Iran, instead of ultimatums, deadlines and sanctions, they prefer dialogue. It helps that neither country feels threatened by Tehran.
Lula da Silva, Brazil’s popular president, typifies this outlook. He gave Clinton fair warning earlier this year that it was “not prudent to push Iran against a wall”. More broadly, Lula has championed the cause of emerging countries, challenged the rich world’s assumptions at the Copenhagen climate summit, and bearded the US over Cuba and Hugo Chávez.
Lula speaks for a world that was formed in the west’s image but is increasingly rejecting its tutelage and its ideas. China and India are the foremost members of this pack. But their leaders’ overriding priority is to build up their countries’ economic strengths. For most part, Beijing avoids open fights with the Americans and their west-European allies. The time will come when that will change – but not yet.
Reacting angrily to Clinton’s implied suggestion that somehow they had been suckered into the uranium deal by the crafty Iranians, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, Brazil’s ambassador to the UN, said Brazil would not co-operate with US-initiated security council discussions on a new resolution. Without unanimity in the council, new sanctions are even less likely to be honoured or effectively implemented than is already the case now.
Brazil’s foreign minister, Celso Amorim, also warned Washington to think again. “We have a chance to achieve a peaceful, negotiated solution [with Iran]. Those who turn down that possibility, or who think that sanctions or other measures would get us closer, they’ll have to take responsibility for that.” Such robust language is an eloquent expression of the changing power dynamic between the old superpower and its new rivals.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister and, like Lula, the leader of an emerging regional power, has a more direct interest in what happens in Iran. The two countries have a common border and a common belief that the Middle East has seen too much interference by foreign powers. Ankara does not want a nuclear-armed Iran any more than it wants a nuclear-armed Israel. In fact, it seeks to empty the region of all weapons of mass destruction.
But Erdogan is increasingly resistant to the US way of doing things, whether it is turning a blind eye to Israel’s Gaza depredations, lecturing Turkey on Armenian history, or maintaining double standards on nuclear weapons. Like most Turks, Erdogan opposed the invasion of Iraq. He has led a rapprochement with Syria, another American bete noire. And he suggested this week that Washington was behaving arrogantly in dismissing the Iran deal.
“This is the time to discuss whether we believe in the supremacy of law or the law of the supremes and superiors,” he said. “While they [the US] still have nuclear weapons, where do they get the credibility to ask other countries not to have them?” Yet despite his obvious anger, Erdogan still answered Clinton’s criticism that the timeline for the uranium swap was “amorphous”. Iran was expected to fulfil its part of the deal within one month, otherwise it would “be on its own”, he said.
Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, made clear Ankara’s opposition to further sanctions – and that he was not worried about upsetting the Americans. “We don’t want any new sanctions in our region because it affects our economy, it affects our energy policies, it affects our relations in our neighbourhood,” he said. Without Turkish co-operation, any new measures will struggle to have an impact.
That may prove to be the case anyway. Overlooked in the furore is the consideration that, thanks to stiff Chinese and Russian opposition, the proposed new sanctions, even if agreed as drafted, are fairly weak. This is nothing like the “crippling” package promised by Clinton, is largely voluntary or non-binding in nature, and will have no effect on Iran’s oil and gas sales – its main source of income.
Supplementary, tougher measures are expected from the EU at a later date while individual countries, such as the US and Britain, may take additional, unilateral steps. So what the US would like to portray as the international community’s united front against Iran is likely to boil down, in reality, to a narrowly-based coalition of the willing involving Washington and a handful of west-European states.
This week’s symbolically significant attempt by Brazil and Turkey to do things differently, and the divisions the subsequent row exposed, suggests this already rickety traditional international security architecture, maintained and policed by a few self-appointed countries, cannot hold much longer. Power is shifting away from the west. You can almost feel it go.
In a world long dominated by Western powers, the global order has been one shaped by coercion. Although the twentieth century saw the end of formal colonialism — the most overt coercive system — the perpetuation of economic colonialism has meant that the United States and its allies still expect to have the final word on most issues of global importance.
It seems natural then as a new global order emerges, Western domination will not get replaced by another form of domination — the Western coercive paradigm itself will be rejected. This indeed, is the new approach to diplomacy that is being pioneered by Brazil and Turkey.
If Barack Obama really embodied a new way of thinking, we’d have reason to hope that he’d be nimble enough to adapt to the momentous period of change that is now unfolding, yet so far all the indications are that whatever his personal abilities might be, he remains firmly tethered to an arthritic diplomatic and political establishment.
The nuclear swap deal just struck by Brazil, Turkey and Iran could be grasped as an unexpected but welcome opportunity. Instead, Washington’s guarded response barely conceals the fact that it sees it own power as being usurped.
In the Financial Times, Jonathan Wheatley notes that the deal may vindicate Brazilian diplomacy and prove the skeptics wrong.
The idea that Iran would abandon its alleged nuclear weapons programme in favour of a peaceful nuclear energy programme in response to amicable talks rather than under the threat of UN-backed sanctions seemed unrealistic, even naïve. But it may well have paid off. Even a US official conceded today that the latest news was “potentially a good development.”
If so, Celso Amorim, Brazil’s foreign minister, can be forgiven some self-satisfaction. “We are holding conversations in a respectful manner and with conviction . . . Our language is not that of pressure. Our language is that of persuasion, friendship and cooperation,” he told reporters in Tehran on Monday.
Al Jazeera notes:
The recent visit by Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s president, to Iran is part of a broad multilateral foreign policy that he believes is commensurate with his nation’s ever-growing importance in a changing world axis.
Brazil under Lula’s eight year reign has promoted trade between Israel and Latin America, while supporting talks with Hamas and Palestinian statehood. It has balked at US urges for sanctions on Iran over their nuclear programme, which Washington believes has nefarious intentions, while on Sunday it brokered an agreement in which Tehran exchanges low-enriched uranium for nuclear fuel.
Diplomatic ties have been created with more than 40 nations, including North Korea, and Brasilia maintains good relations across divides, for instance with foes Venezuela and Colombia.
Like India, Brazil is advocating for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council and wants reform of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to better represent developing nations.
For as Lula said in an interview with Al Jazeera this week, international geopolitics is shifting and global governance needs to change with it.
The impact of the agreement on Israel — where coercion is generally regarded as the only effective tool of persuasion — was summed up by Yossi Melman:
The agreement on the transfer of Iran’s enriched uranium, achieved via Turkish-Brazilian mediation, is an important victory for Iranian diplomacy and a debacle for Israeli policy. The deal reduces the chances, which were slim to begin with, of new sanctions being imposed on Iran, and makes a military strike against Iran even less feasible.
Turkey is the deal’s big winner. Trade between Iran and Turkey already stands at $10 billion annually, so if sanctions were imposed on Tehran, Turkey would suffer a massive blow to its economy – and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party would suffer a major political setback. Alternatively, should Turkey decide not to uphold the sanctions, it might find itself in a crisis with the United States and Europe. Hence the tremendous effort Turkey made to achieve the deal, despite American warnings that Iran might be using Turkey in order to buy time.
Why did Iran choose to see Turkey as an “honest broker” and make the deal with it instead of with the permanent Security Council members? The two countries’ good relations are not free of suspicion, but both Iran and Turkey have adopted a policy of expanding their influence in the Middle East, influence of the sort that relies on cooperation rather than competition.
The closer ties between Turkey and Syria, Iran’s ally; the similar attitude that Turkey and Iran have toward Hamas; their shared interests in Iraq; and a similar view of radical Islamic terrorism all combined with Turkey’s disappointment over European views of its candidacy to join the European Union to create a confluence of interests that, for the time being, trumps their disagreements. Moreover, from an ideological standpoint, Iran prefers Turkey to the U.S.: Any concession to Washington or its Security Council partners would be perceived as a surrender.
The Wall Street Journal adds:
China welcomed Iran’s new nuclear fuel-swap agreement, saying the deal supports Beijing’s long-held position that the international dispute over Iran’s nuclear ambitions can be resolved through diplomacy rather than sanctions or force.
“We hope this will help promote a peaceful settlement of the Iranian nuclear issue through dialogue and negotiation,” foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said Tuesday at a regular press briefing. “We believe dialogue and negotiation is the best approach to settle the Iranian nuclear issue.”
Under the deal arranged by Brazil and Turkey, Iran will ship out some of its uranium to Turkey, have it enriched and then shipped back to Iran for use in a medical research reactor. Western powers want to keep Iran from enriching uranium on its own soil, because it fears that fuel will end up being used for nuclear weapons, which Tehran denies. The latest deal is a weakened version of one that was negotiated last October but fell through after Iran’s government didn’t approve it.
For China, a deal brokered by Brazil and Turkey is in line with its broader vision of a more multipolar world order not dominated by Washington.
Julian Borger thinks that Iran might have overplayed its hand.
The initial western response to the new Turkish-Brazilian-Iranian uranium swap deal was akin to a chess player realising loss is inevitable. There was an awkward silence and quietly spreading panic as western capitals looked a few moves ahead and could not think of a way of escaping the trap they had fallen into. The deal would have to be accepted, even though it did little to slow down Iran’s nuclear drive, and the push for sanctions in New York would deflate.
And then, the Iranian foreign ministry decided to speak. The spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, declared: “Of course, enrichment of uranium to 20% will continue inside Iran.”
The announcement was stunning. Iran’s justification for beginning 20% enrichment in February, was that it needed the material to make medical isotopes for the Tehran research reactor, although it was unclear how the Iranians were going to fabricate the necessary rods. Under this new deal, the rods will be provided free of charge. What then would be the civilian use of Iran’s home-enriched uranium?
For those already convinced Iran is working its way to breakout nuclear weapons capacity, the point of enriching to 20% is clear. In engineering terms it is a lot more than half way to 90% weapons-grade material, and an important test of the reliability of Iran’s centrifuges in reaching that goal.
Within minutes, the western capitals, tongue-tied over their response for the first few hours, began to rally.
But if Washington hoped that there might at least be unity in the expression of Western reservations about the deal, that hope was swiftly undermined as the French President Nicholas Sarkozy said he sees this development as a “positive step.”
If President Obama had accomplished what Brazil and Turkey are about to pull off — a deal through which Iran will exchange its stockpile of enriched uranium in return for fuel rods for a medical research reactor — then the US media would be hailing this as a diplomatic breakthrough. Instead, this is being described as a possible obstacle to sanctions. The New York Times reports:
Brazilian and Turkish government officials said Sunday that their leaders had brokered a tentative compromise with Iran in the international standoff over Iran’s nuclear program, a development that could undermine efforts in the United Nations to impose new sanctions on the Iranians.
A spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry said that after 17 hours of talks in Tehran, ministers from Brazil, Iran and Turkey had reached an agreement on the “principles” to revive a stalled nuclear fuel-swap deal backed by the United Nations.
The spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the deal would be presented to the leaders of the countries for “final touches,” with a statement on the agreement expected as early as Monday. The exact terms, notably the amount of nuclear fuel to be swapped, were not revealed.
The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, canceled an official visit to Azerbaijan late Sunday and instead joined officials in Tehran in what was seen as a sign of progress in the talks.
[A] Washington Iran expert said the fact that the alleged nuclear deal was connected to Lula’s meeting with the Iranian Supreme Leader, as opposed to with the Iranian president, may be significant.
That signals that Khamenei “is endorsing the deal,” the National Iranian American Council’s Trita Parsi said, adding it may reduce the bouts of Iranian domestic political infighting that have plagued earlier rounds of negotiations that failed to hold up. “That means this is no longer Ahmadinejad’s nuclear deal, this is Khamenei’s nuclear deal.”
The Financial Times said:
Iran’s supreme leader on Sunday praised Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for defying US calls to close ranks against the Islamic regime as the Brazilian leader arrived in Tehran seeking to mediate in the crisis over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“Brazil in recent years [under Mr Lula] has differed from previous years,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told his visitor. He called on “independent” countries to assert their roles in global affairsnd help to change the UN so it does not favour powerful states.
Among commentators unable to see beyond the bankrupt perspective that the United States has the indispensable role of mediating a Middle East peace agreement (if such an agreement is ever to be reached), much is being made about Joe Biden’s tough words “behind closed doors”. Laura Rozen quotes from a Yedioth Ahronoth report:
People who heard what Biden said were stunned. “This is starting to get dangerous for us,” Biden castigated his interlocutors. “What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.”
The vice president told his Israeli hosts that since many people in the Muslim world perceived a connection between Israel’s actions and US policy, any decision about construction that undermines Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem could have an impact on the personal safety of American troops fighting against Islamic terrorism.
Help us fight the war on terrorism, Biden admonishes his Israeli friends. But we are, they think but in this instance are too polite to say. That’s why we’re taking over East Jerusalem. We’re fortifying the front-line.
It seems to me that the crux of the issue is not the latest upset; it is that the so-called peace process has always rested on an unbalanced foundation. Which is to say, Israel will only accept the direct involvement of third parties that have a clear bias in their favor.
If President Obama wanted to do something truly radical, it might not have to take the form of applying pressure — pressure that would be fiercely and effectively resisted by the Israel lobby. On the contrary, it could be to acknowledge that American efforts have failed — not only his own but those of all his predecessors — and that there comes a point when failure has been so persistent and become so predictable, that it is time to step aside.
There is someone else waiting in the wings, eager to step in — a man who regards dialogue as the essence of politics and who can make a stronger claim to be even-handed than anyone in the United States or Europe: Brazil’s President Lula da Silva. He also happens to be the most popular political leader in the world.
Ahead of his visit to the Middle East next week, where his first stop will be in Israel, Lula was interviewed by Haaretz:
Lula was one of the first leaders to host President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after Iran’s blood-stained election of June 2009. Brazil was also one of only five countries to abstain from an International Atomic Energy Agency vote last November on a condemnation of Iran.
He is set to visit the Islamic Republic in May, where his hosts will repay him in kind for the red carpet he laid out for them in Brasilia last November. When asked how he’ll be able to win over the Israelis, whose vantage point is related to the trauma of the Holocaust, Lula replies: “I spoke with the president of Iran and made it clear to him that he cannot go on saying that he wants Israel’s liquidation, just as it is untenable for him to deny the Holocaust, which is a legacy of all humanity. I added that the fact that he has differences with Israel does not allow him to deny or ignore history.”
In a way that will undoubtedly disturb those who will host him in Israel next week, Lula draws a direct association between the failure to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace and his planned visit to Tehran; between the need to ensure that Iran will not manufacture nuclear weapons and the need to resolve the Middle East conflict; and between the failed attempts at mediation led by international players, first and foremost the United States, and the need to bring in fresh new players – Brazilians, in all likelihood.
“I talked about Iran with many leaders, and particularly with those whose countries have a seat on the Security Council,” he explains. “The Americans, the French, the British, the Russians and the Chinese all want to advance the Middle East peace process. But I also feel that the parties to the conflict and the people involved in the process have long since grown tired of it. So, the time has come to bring into the arena players who will be able to put forward new ideas. Those players must have access to all levels of the conflict: in Israel, in Palestine, in Iran, in Syria, in Jordan and in many other countries that are associated with this conflict. This is the only way we will be able to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace, and at the same time be able to say clearly to Iran that we are against the manufacture of nuclear weapons.”
Lula does not overlook any of the elements in this comprehensive linkage when asked about the fact that Israeli patience regarding Iran seems to have worn thin. “The leaders I spoke to believe that we must act quickly, otherwise Israel will attack Iran. I do not want Israel to attack Iran, just as I do not want Iran to attack Israel. In an orderly world, people have to learn to talk to one another.” Here he seems to be alluding critically to the “proximity talks” about to get underway between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
“The appropriate partners from each country have to be found, and more serious talks conducted,” he continues. “The importance of talks between third- and fourth-rank officials [does not hold] even 1 percent of the importance of tete-a-tete talks between leaders. Politics is mainly contact. People have to look at each other, sense each other. A leader has to look into the eyes of his interlocutor instead of communicating with him through lower-level individuals.”
The Brazilian president says he is disappointed that all that remains of the Oslo Accords is “Nobel Prizes and photographs of people hugging each other,” as well as the fact that the Annapolis conference of November 2007, in which Brazil participated, did not have any follow-up. “This gives me serious doubts: Who really wants peace in the Middle East? Who has an interest in achieving a solution and who would like the conflict to continue? The impression is that someone is constantly working here as though he has hidden enemies, people who simply do not want an agreement to be reached.”
Lula describes himself as a negotiator, not an ideologue, a person who manages to get along with both Hugo Chavez and George W. Bush, with Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He says he has never read a book in his life, even though everyone admires his “supreme wisdom” and “creative mind.” As a chairman of the workers union during the years of military rule in Brazil, he encountered and resolved many difficult conflicts.
“I was born into the politics of dialogue, I became president of this country through dialogue and I have conducted my entire presidency by means of dialogue. I believe that through dialogue we will succeed in solving all the conflicts which today appear to be unsolvable,” he says.
He is well aware that he will be regarded as “naive” by his Israeli interlocutors. He is also familiar with the counter-rhetoric of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who likens Ahmadinejad to Hitler, Iran to the Nazi regime and the world of 2010 to that of 1938. Lula’s assertive response is likely to surprise even those familiar with his arguments: “Anyone who compares Ahmadinejad and modern-day Iran to Hitler and the Nazis is having the same kind of radicalism of which Iran is being accused. Anyone who takes that line is not contributing in the least to the peace process which we want to create for the sake of the future. You cannot do politics with hate and resentment. Anyone who wants to do politics with hate and resentment should get out of politics. Nobody can rule a country through the liver. You have to rule a country with your head and your heart. Other than that, it’s best to stay somewhere else other than in politics
No doubt many veterans of the peace process would scoff at the notion that the Brazilian leader might succeed where those who have made this undertaking their professions have consistently failed. But if there is one place failure should succeed it is in the cultivation of humility.
As for the Israelis, there seems little prospect that they have the stomach for a genuinely even-handed approach and if they were to decline such an offer then that is undoubtedly their prerogative. They should be given these options: fair mediation or splendid isolation.
Claudio Lottenberg, the president of Sao Paulo’s Albert Einstein Hospital and a leader of Brazil’s Jewish community notes: “Lula is an important rising player in the international arena, and Israel should take account of this. It is important for Israel to have partners and allies besides the United States.”
But not only is Lula an important figure; Brazil itself clearly has much to teach a world which must become a multicultural success if it is to have any future at all.
Lula’s ambition to make a deep imprint in the Middle East goes beyond his country’s international status, to what he describes proudly as “a long Brazilian history of peace and a life of brotherhood in a region of diverse cultures. More than 120,000 Jews live here in full harmony with 10 million Arabs. It would seem that people can learn from us.” Brazil terms itself “the world’s largest Lebanese country” (some six million of Brazil’s Arabs are of Lebanese origin), “the second-largest African country in the world” (after Nigeria), and also the second-largest Italian and Japanese countries. It is a huge blend of peoples and cultures that do not know the meaning of friction.
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone in Rio de Janeiro who hasn’t heard of Saara Street, where Jews and Arabs sell clothing, toys and other items side by side. Whenever tension in the Middle East rises, local television crews show up to film the Brazilian version of coexistence. “All Brazilians are brothers,” they say – hence their ability, in their view, to bring brotherhood to all other nations.