The United Nations Security Council approved a resolution calling for new sanctions against Iran today. Wait, did you just yawn? Pay attention, there's real news here. The man-bites-dog story is that two countries - Brazil and Turkey - voted no, while Lebanon abstained.
That's a record. There's never been more than one no vote before; there's never been less than 14 yes votes before; it's only the second time that there were any no votes at all. And it's the first time any non-Muslim country voted no (Brazil.)
This is the sixth Security Council resolution attacking Iran's nuclear program since July 2006. Here's the scorecard:
Resolution 1696, July 31, 2006:
Fourteen votes in favor to one against (Qatar.)
Resolution 1737, December 23, 2006:
Resolution 1747, March 24, 2007:
Resolution 1803, March 3, 2008:
passed by a vote of 14-0-1, with one abstention (Indonesia.)
Resolution 1835, September 27, 2008:
Resolution 1929, June 9, 2010:
passed by 12 votes to two against (Brazil and Turkey) and one abstention from Lebanon
Why did Brazil and Turkey vote no?
1) they don't believe new sanctions are going to resolve the conflict;
2) they think that new sanctions will be counterproductive to diplomacy;
3) they think that the current path could eventually lead to war;
4) they are understandably annoyed with the U.S. for first encouraging them to pursue a nuclear fuel swap deal with Iran and then reversing its position when Brazil and Turkey's diplomacy succeeded;
5) Turkey is still understandably annoyed with the U.S. for acquiescing in the Israeli military attack that just killed 9 Turks.
Still, you might say: that's just Brazil and Turkey. Who cares a fig about them?
Well, if you look at a map, you'll soon discover that Turkey is the proud possessor of something extremely relevant to the question of cutting off Iran's' economic ties to the world: a 300-mile border with Iran.
Now, I would not expect Turkey to openly defy the letter of the sanctions passed by the Security Council (although some have questioned whether Security Council action is binding in this case, since Security Council action can't take away Iran's legal right to enrich uranium.) But recall that the U.S. has said that these Security Council sanctions were not the real show: the real show was the enhanced sanctions the US hoped to get from Europe and the Gulf countries using the Security Council resolution as cover. What's the probability that Turkey will lift a finger to help with the enforcement of sanctions that go beyond what the Security Council just agreed?
And the utility of the Security Council resolution as cover was just decreased, because the two Security Council countries from the Middle East opposed it, and because Brazil opposed it. And Brazil's opposition gives carte blanche to Latin America to say: this doesn't mean anything to us in terms of our ongoing economic relations with Iran.
Which is not to say that the new sanctions - particularly the "add-on" sanctions currently being pursued by the U.S - won't hurt Iran economically. But there is no reason to expect the new sanctions to fundamentally change the diplomatic dynamics. The probability that enhanced sanctions will compel Iran to suspend the enrichment of uranium is virtually nil. Sooner or later, Washington will have to face up to the fact that it has no meaningful alternative to serious negotiations with the Iranian government.
All the pundits in Washington can hold their breath until they turn blue, but Brazil and Turkey have gotten too big and too independent, especially given Washington's waning power, for the U.S. to push around.
As President Lula says in Oliver Stone's new documentary, "We paid off the IMF, we paid off the Paris Club, we do not owe anything to anybody."
UPDATE: Brazil has released an "explanation of vote," and remarks it made in the Council debate. (English follows the Portuguese.)