Obama Less Successful Than ‘Unilateralist’ Bush Was in Pushing U.N. Security Council to Sanction Iran
Turkey and Brazil voted against resolution 1929, while Lebanon abstained.
For all its supposed unilateralism and unpopularity at the U.N., the Bush administration was twice able to pull off what the current administration has not – a 15 out of 15 vote in the council for sanctions against Tehran. On a third occasion, the Bush administration achieved a 14-0 vote, with one abstention.
Resolutions 1737 (in 2006), 1747 (2007) and 1803 (2008) were, at China and Russia’s insistence, less robust than the U.S. would have wished. But at least the unanimous vote result in the first two cases demonstrated a unified position on Iran’s nuclear activities by the world body’s most powerful organ.
The Bush administration was widely accused of substandard diplomacy, not least by its domestic critics. U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said last September the new administration had “dramatically changed the tone, the substance, and the practice of our diplomacy at the United Nations” and accused the previous one of “stiff-arming the U.N. and spurning our international partners.”
Yet under some of her predecessors – John Bolton in the months leading up to the 2006 resolution, Alejandro Wolff in 2007, and Zalmay Khalilzad in 2008 – the U.S. managed to win over several non-permanent Council members either sympathetic to Iran, or at least not pro-Western in outlook.
They included Qatar (2006 and 2007), Indonesia (2007), South Africa (2007 and 2008), Vietnam (2008) – and even Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya (2008).
In voting no on Wednesday, Brazil and Turkey argued the sanctions would endanger a diplomatic solution to the standoff, which has dragged on since 2002. (According to Beirut’s Daily Star, Lebanon abstained after its cabinet could not reach agreement on the matter. Western-leaning ministers wanted an abstention; Hezbollah and its allies wanted Lebanon to vote against the resolution.)
Brazil and Turkey last month negotiated an agreement for Iran to send some of its low-enriched uranium abroad for processing, and said afterwards that there was no longer any need for additional U.N. sanctions.
But the U.S. and others pressed ahead with negotiations on a draft resolution, saying the Turkey-Brazil-Iran deal did not resolve the core questions driving suspicion that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons capability under the cover of a civilian program.
When the Security Council a year ago unanimously approved a resolution tightening sanctions against North Korea, U.S. diplomats stressed the importance of the fact the council was “speaking with one voice.”
Testifying before Congress in February, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told lawmakers that it was important that “we speak with one voice, one voice within our government and one voice internationally, against Iran’s failure to live up to its responsibilities.”
Administration officials on Wednesday minimized the significance of the 12-2 vote.
“The passage today of resolution 1929 occurred with a very strong majority of the Security Council,” U.S. ambassador Rice said after the session. “We are very pleased by the outcome and pleased by the strong support that was demonstrated by Council members.”
“The fact that Turkey and Brazil chose to vote no, I think as you heard in their statements, was a reflection largely of a difference of timing and tactics,” she said.
“Both countries affirmed their view that Iran should not have a nuclear weapons capability, we share that goal. They differed with the other members of the Security Council about the timing and appropriateness of sanctions at this stage.”
“We would have welcomed a unanimous vote,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told a briefing. “We didn’t get the unanimous vote, but we got a very, very strong, compelling statement from the international community.”
Asked whether the absence of unanimity weakened the signal of collective will, Crowley alluded to the difficulties faced by diplomats.
“I would say that given the amount of effort and length of effort by Iran to try to do everything in its power to avoid this moment, I think we are satisfied that this sends a very strong message,” he said.
“We have a difference of view over perhaps tactics and timing. We respect that. But I think we are very satisfied that this resolution will raise the cost of Iran’s noncompliance,” Crowley said.
“We are going to, now working with international partners, move ahead with aggressively enforcing this resolution. And we expect that it will have impact in Iran.”