Is the Iranian Nuclear Deal a Good Deal?

April 8, 2015

by John Parisella

In the past week, politicians and various experts have been weighing in on the negotiated framework between Iran and the permanent members of the UN Security Council (plus Germany) in Lausanne, Switzerland.  While the Iranian nuclear deal appears on the surface to be quite an accomplishment, getting to a final agreement is no sure thing.

Some highlights of the deal include implementing an inspection regime, reducing the number of installed centrifuges from 19,000 to about 6,000, imposing limits on enriching uranium beyond a certain level considered crucial for making a bomb, transforming the mission of some existing nuclear installations, and reducing the stockpile of low enriched uranium.  All in all, the goal is to prevent the creation of a nuclear bomb.  Should Iran act contrary to its commitments, all options remain—including new sanctions or military action.

The major players, Iran and the United States, have been putting their respective spins about the meaning of the announced deal. In Iran, authorities claim that it will signal the immediate end of crippling sanctions. In the United States, the Obama administration argues that the agreement is the best way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb and to ensure greater political stability in the region.

Opponents of the agreement have a completely different take.  Saudi Arabia remains concerned about Iran’s regional intentions, and the current conflict in Yemen involving the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels is doing nothing to alleviate those concerns.  Israel’s freshly re-elected prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has predictably trashed the agreement as a “bad” deal that must not be allowed to occur.  He says it is a sure path to a nuclear bomb that could possibly destroy the state of Israel.  U.S. Republicans, supportive of Netanyahu,  have generally taken the view that Obama is so desperate to sign a deal that he is doing little to protect U.S. national interests.

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Tags: Iran, Barack Obama, Iran nuclear agreement

Argentine Lower House Approves Agreement With Iran

February 28, 2013

by AQ Online

After a 14-hour session and with 131 votes in favor, Argentine legislators approved on Thursday a bill that authorizes a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Iran to investigate the 1994 bombing to the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina—AMIA) in Buenos Aires. The government-sponsored agreement signed in January will set up an international truth commission to question Iranian officials accused of planning and financing the attack that left 85 people dead and some 300 injured.

The truth commission will include five independent judges—each country will select two judges and the final judge will be selected by both parties—who will investigate the bombing. Under the agreement, Argentine authorities will be able to interrogate Iranian suspects, which include Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi and potential presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaee.

For the past two decades the Iranian government has denied any involvement. The president of the Foreign Relations Committee, Guillermo Carmona, claims that the MOU is the only way by which Argentine officials can question the suspects. However, the opposition and Jewish organizations in Argentina have criticized the bill by arguing that the agreement is “vague, ambiguous and imprecise” and that any cooperation with Iran could hinder existing Argentine investigations into the attack.

The deal has also sparked some tensions between Israel and Argentina—the home to one of the largest Jewish communities in the world—as well as with the United States since the deal is based on dialogue and cooperation with Iran. The agreement will enter into effect once approved by the Iranian Parliament.

Tags: Argentina, Iran, AMIA bombing

Why The Iran-Brazil Friendship Has Gone Cold

April 5, 2012

by Eduardo J. Gomez

After just over a century of amicable relations, Brazil has decided to cool its relationship with Iran.

Gone are the days when Brazil's leader, President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva (2002-2010), worked hard to strengthen Brazil's partnership with Iran, defending Iranian interests, sharing and learning from similar policy experiences over cafezinho.

At a time when Brazil has sought every opportunity to engage the international community and increase its influence as a mediator of conflict and peace, why has Brazil's new president, Dilma Rousseff, refrained from strengthening the government's ties with Iran?

The answer lies in Rousseff's personal experiences and geopolitical ambitions.

As someone who experienced human rights violations first hand under Brazil's military dictatorships (1964-1985), Rousseff has been unwaveringly committed to human rights. She has made it crystal clear that she will not support Iran unless President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seriously addresses this issue.

It's striking how quickly two nations sharing similar economic and geopolitical interests have suddenly distanced themselves from each other and how Brazil's decision may negatively affect Iran's relationship with other countries.

What this also suggests is that amicable relationships between similar nations are never guaranteed and that a sudden change in government interests and aspirations can reverse historic partnerships while having broader geopolitical ramifications.

For Rousseff, personal experiences matter.

As a high school student from the city of Belo Horizonte, she joined a Marxist revolutionary group called Palmares Revolutionary Armed Vanguard (Var-Palmares), which sought to dethrone a military government that repeatedly violated civil and human rights.

In 1970, she was arrested, interrogated and placed in prison. While serving three years, Rousseff was periodically tortured: electrical shocks ran throughout her body; she was incessantly beaten and called names; she was hung upside down in between two steel platforms in what the military called the pau de arara ("parrot’s perch"). By the time of her release at 25, she lost more than 22 pounds and her thyroid glands were nearly destroyed.

Needless to say, these horrific experiences had an enduring imprint on Rousseff's foreign policy views.

Indeed, when questioned about Iran during her campaign trail in 2009, the first two words to often come out of her mouth were "human" and "rights." The Iranian regime's atrocious history of killing thousands of dissidents, when combined with Iranian court orders to have several people stoned to death for violating the law was viewed by Rousseff as "medieval behavior." Moreover, the regime's decision to continuously throw political opponents in jail touched a sensitive nerve with Rousseff.

She made it very clear that before any business took place with Iran, Ahmadinejad would need to stop these barbaric acts. Yet this may prove difficult as Ahmadinejad's political influence is often perceived as limited because of the presence of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Being blamed and essentially ignored by Ahmadinejad also didn't help. Last year, Ahmadinejad's media adviser, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, was quoted as stating that Rousseff had "destroyed years of good relations" between them.

Under Lula, Brazil strengthened its political and economic ties with Iran through trade (indirectly via Dubai, estimated at $1.25 billion in 2010) and investment in Iran's oil sector. But when Ahmadinejad visited Latin America this January, he avoided meeting with Rousseff. Apparently he regrets having done so and plans to meet with her later this year.

Rousseff's geopolitical aspirations have also caused her to step away from Tehran. After Lula joined Turkey in 2010 to vote against UN sanctions on Iran for failing to disclose information about its nuclear reactor site and ignoring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's request to do so, it appears that Rousseff views distancing herself from Iran as a way to strengthen Brazil's relationship with the United States.

Through these efforts, it seems that Rousseff is seeking to garner U.S. support for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, as well as increasing Brazil's influence in major international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund.

Without Rousseff's support, Ahmadinejad faces problems in Latin America.

Iran has tried to strengthen ties with Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Cuba, and until recently, Brazil. And it's opened six embassies in the region since 2005, sans Brazil. But Ahmadinejad can essentially forget about getting the support of Brazil's close economic allies, such as Mexico, Argentina and Chile. Ahmadinejad has also failed to live up to his promise of helping spur economic development in the region.

At a time when he is trying to increase his legitimacy, given his hostile relationship with Israel and efforts to develop his nuclear reactors, Ahmadinejad might not be able to afford losing his Latin friends, as they have defended him in the past and their support makes him look less isolated in the world.

This freeze in relations with Brazil, and Iran's gradual loss of allies in the region, also opens up further opportunity for the United Nations to impose and enforce additional sanctions on Iran. Should this occur, Ahmadinejad faces the specter of other allies questioning their relationship with Iran, which could have serious political and economic repercussions for Iran.

Despite the rich history that these two nations share, it seems unlikely that Rousseff will want to strengthen her ties with Ahmadinejad.

With aspirations to increase Brazil's international influence and geopolitical importance, she will likely place more stock in strengthening her relationship with the United States and other cooperative nations within the United Nations. Unless Ahmadinejad changes his tune on human rights and decides to fully abide by UN rules, Iran's losses may go beyond Brazil.

*This post originally appeared on CNN's website and is republished with permission from the author, who also wrote “Dilma’s Education Dilemma” in Fall 2011 issue of Americas Quarterly.

Eduardo J. Gomez is assistant professor in the department of public policy and administration at Rutgers University.

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Tags: Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Dilma Rousseff

Monday Memo: AQ’s Top-Five Expected Stories for the Week of March 12-16

March 12, 2012

by AQ Online

Top stories this week are likely to include: U.S. congressional interest in Iranian activity in Latin America; Brazil responds to low 2011 growth numbers; Hugo Chávez returns from Cuba; drug legalization to be a topic of debate at the Summit of the Americas; and Costa Rica and Nicaragua agree to cooperate on their shared border.

Congress To Demand Iran Knowledge: The Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives last week passed H.R. 3783, also known as the “Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act.” The bill, which will advance to consideration by the full House in the near future, requests that the State Department provide Congress with a detailed report of the activities that Iranian agents and proxy organizations Hezbollah and Hamas are undertaking in the Western Hemisphere. AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini said in The Washington Times that the legislation “smacks of Cold War backyardism” because Iran’s presence in Latin America is the only Latin America-related issue that is being discussed in the 2012 presidential campaign rather than, say, the rise of Brazil.

Brazil Adjusts to Low 2011 Growth: After the Instituto Brasileiro de Georgrafia e Estatística (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) reported a 2.7-percentage GDP growth in 2011, Brazil’s central bank cut the key Selic interest rate by 75 basis points last Thursday to 9.75 percent. What does this mean going forward? AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak observes: “Although economic growth in 2011 was 5 percentage points below that of 2010, this must be looked at in context with the global situation and the fact that 2010 growth was the highest in 25 years; plus, these latest numbers also show that Brazil overtook the United Kingdom to become the world’s sixth biggest economy. Still, expect the rolling out of various measures to boost growth before voters head to the polls in October’s municipal elections.”

Chávez Returns Home: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez will return home this week after recovering from another surgery in Cuba to remove a malignant lesion. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed the news after traveling to Havana last week. Cubadebate reports that Chávez will immediately begin his electoral campaign for president ahead of the October elections. Expect the populist leader to be publicly energetic while the Venezuelan electorate remains highly skeptical over his long-term health.

Drug Legalization at the Summit: The number-one topic of debate during U.S. Vice President’s visit to Mexico and Honduras last week, drug legalization will be an agenda item at the Sixth Summit of the Americas next month in Cartagena, Colombia. Marczak says: “U.S. willingness to discuss drug legalization shows that the Obama administration is listening to the frustrations of various countries that are seeing legalization as a possible way to reduce the violence inflicted by the narcotics trade. Still, opening it up to discussion does not mean that the U.S. has shifted in its rejection of legalization.”

Nicaraguan–Costa Rican Coordination: The announcement last week that Nicaragua and Costa Rica would jointly coordinate on security matters related to their shared border is welcome news amid their longstanding border dispute over the island of Calero. The Calero incident “was a sharp reminder that border conflicts persist in the region. While this one looks fortunately to be resolved, there are at least a half-dozen others that could flare given the political differences in the region,” notes Sabatini.

Tags: Summit of the Americas, Costa Rica, Cuba, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Hugo Chavez, Juan Manuel Santos, Iran

Ahmadinejad and Chávez Hold Bilateral Meetings in Caracas Today

January 9, 2012

by AQ Online

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Venezuela yesterday afternoon to kick off his four-country tour of Latin America that will also include stops in Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador. The Iranian head of state may also attend the January 14 inauguration of Guatemalan President-elect Otto Pérez Molina. Ahmadinejad is accompanied by several members of his cabinet, including the ministers of foreign affairs, economy, industry, and energy.

Ahmadinejad was greeted at the airport yesterday by Venezuelan Vice President Elías Jaua and will meet today with President Hugo Chávez—who was in the eastern city of Puerto La Cruz filming Aló Presidente yesterday. At a critical juncture when Iran faces global concern over its nuclear program, including tough UN sanctions and even tougher additional U.S.- and EU-led sanctions, Washington worries that Venezuela will undermine those restrictions by sending oil and money to Ahmadinejad’s embattled regime. The U.S. already placed sanctions on PDVSA, Venezuela’s state-run oil company, in May 2011 for doing business with Iran.

Over their years-long friendship, Chávez and Ahmadinejad have signed roughly 270 accords on issues like trade, construction, energy, and banking. In addition to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador make up part of the Chávez-inspired Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas—the so-called “anti-imperialist” bloc of eight Latin American and Caribbean nations. Guatemala also plays an important role in global governance; it was recently awarded a temporary, two-year seat on the UN Security Council.

Ahmadinejad originally planned to visit Venezuela last September after the UN General Assembly, but cancelled at the last minute due to Chávez’ chemotherapy treatments in his recovery from cancer. Both Ahmadinejad and Chávez will fly tomorrow to Nicaragua to attend Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s inauguration for a second consecutive term—an event that Chávez cites as the “central purpose” of Ahmadinejad’s Latin American tour.

View a video of Ahmadinejad's arrival in Caracas:

Tags: Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Ecuador, Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega, Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

October 12, 2011

by AS-COA Online

From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.

Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

Second Guessing Zetas’ Ties with Iranian Terrorism

Concerns about the potential connection between Middle East terrorism and Latin American organized crime were revived this week when news hit that Iranians had plotted with an individual who they thought was a member of Mexico’s Zetas gang to kill the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. The presumed gangster turned out to be an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. In Washington, legislators differed over whether the news demonstrated such a threat. “The fact that elements of the Iranian government targeted a Mexican drug cartel to carry out a high-level assassination is further evidence that the cartels are perceived as terrorists willing to participate in a lucrative, violent scheme inside the United States,” said Congressman Michael McCaul (R-TX). But Representative Henry Cuellar (D-TX) said: “If anything, the Mexicans were trying to help us.”  A statement from Mexico’s Secretariat of Foreign Relations said: “In strict compliance with domestic and international law, Mexico was able to neutralize a significant risk to Mexico’s national security, while at the same time reinforcing bilateral and reciprocal cooperation with the United States.” Bloggings by Boz contends that the connection between Iranian terrorists and Zetas is unlikely, with Mexican drug cartels not wishing to disrupt their lucrative business. “I think the top leadership of the Zetas and others are very aware that any involvement in a bombing on U.S. soil or trafficking of [weapons of mass destruction] would bring a lot of additional focus and resources against them. They certainly wouldn't do it for the price of one truck of cocaine,” he writes.

Abbas on LatAm Tour to Bolster Palestine’s Statehood Bid

President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas took his fight for Palestinian statehood on the road this week with a Latin American tour that takes him to El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela. But he failed to reach his goal during his first stop in Colombia. Speaking on the prospect of an independent Palestine, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos stated: “It must be the product of negotiations [between Israelis and Palestinians] because this is the only way to achieve peace,”after meeting with Abbas. Colombia is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and Abbas sees Bogota’s support as crucial, given that he needs at least nine out of 15 votes from the Council to gain a recommendation in favor of Palestine gaining UN membership.

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Tags: Colombia FTA, Panama FTA, Iran, Humala, Zetas, Terrorism in Latin America

Ahmadinejad to Visit Venezuela, Says Chávez

September 15, 2011

by AQ Online

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela announced on Wednesday that he is expecting a visit from his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, this month. He told reporters, “Ahmadinejad is coming here, at last, after New York,” referring to the latter’s attendance at the UN General Assembly next week.

President Chávez, who himself will not be traveling to New York to attend the General Assembly, did not provide specific details about the date or content of his meeting with Ahmadinejad. In recent years the two leaders have become close political and commercial allies, bound also by rocky relations with the United States. They last met in Tehran in October 2010, and before that in Caracas in November 2009. This latest visit could aggravate tensions with the United States; earlier this year the Obama administration imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil giant PDVSA for doing business in Iran, which it considered a violation of international sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.

Chávez is currently recovering from the removal of a cancerous tumor and may receive a fourth round of chemotherapy next week. Though he will not attend the General Assembly, he has said he expects the meetings there to be “lively” and plans to follow them closely. In particular Chávez expressed his support for the Palestinians’ bid for statehood.

Tags: Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Venezuela-Iran relations

Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

September 8, 2010

by AS-COA Online

From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.

Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

Petrobras Plans World’s Largest Public Offering

Mercopress reports that the Brazilian state-owned oil company Petrobras plans to sell as many as $64.5 billion in shares at the end of September to fund the development of new oil reserves. The Brazilian finance minister made assurances that the government will “act strongly” to protect the integrity of the real from the pending currency influx. But the IPO is also a turning point for China, marking the “first time a Chinese investment bank is taking a key role in a major share issue outside the mainland China and Hong Kong market,” reports People’s Daily Online.

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Tags: Cuba, Haiti, Iran, Citigroup Bond Index, Mudslides

U.S. Rejects President Lula’s Iran Deal

June 9, 2010

by AQ Online

The United States today dismissed a proposed agreement between Brazil, Turkey and Iran that would allow Iran to swap enriched uranium for reactor fuel.  The deal was brokered by Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva during his trip in May to Tehran.  The U.S., however, appears to think that the Brazilian agreement would leave Iran with enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon.

Brazil’s role in the nuclear negotiations is part of a broader effort to increase its profile on the international stage, but the U.S. has downplayed its diplomatic efforts on Iran.  Prior to Mr. Lula da Silva’s May trip to Tehran, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton repeatedly said that only UN Security Council action would be effective in curbing Iran’s ambitions.  When the Brazilian president succeeded in brokering the deal, Washington declined to recognize it as an important breakthrough.

The UN Security Council is soon expected to approve a fourth round of economic sanctions against Iran, which Brazil has opposed.  U.S. officials met with the Brazilian deputy foreign minister on Monday in an effort to convince Brazil to abstain from voting against the sanctions at today’s Security Council meeting, rather than cast a “no” vote.  Turkey, which joined Brazil in the negotiations with Iran, and Lebanon are also expected to oppose the newest round of sanctions.

Tags: Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Iran, United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton, UN Security Council

Weekly News Roundup from Across the Americas

September 9, 2009

by AS-COA Online

From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.

Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

Calderón Undertakes Housecleaning

Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón announced that his government plans to close down the secretariats of tourism, agrarian reform, and public service in an austerity measure that could save hundreds of millions of dollars. The three agencies will be absorbed into others. The move followed a cabinet reshuffling that involved replacing the attorney general, the head of state oil firm Pemex, and the secretary of agriculture. An Associated Press report suggests Calderón’s decision to replace Attorney General Medina-Mora with Arturo Chávez represents a choice to go with a stronger approach toward fighting drug cartels. However, women’s rights groups have protested the choice, saying Chávez did little while attorney general in the border state of Chihuahua to resolve the disappearances of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juarez. Chávez must gain confirmation from the Mexican Senate.

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Tags: Chile, Canada, Cuba, Brazil, Bolivia, El Salvador, Mexico, Venezuela, Immigration, Guatemala, unemployment, Iran, Micheletti, France, Military