Three rulers were brought together in Tehran this week by their respective personal ambitions for leadership roles in their regions or even von a worldwide platform. But otherwise, and outside their joint mission to underwrite a deal for Iran to export uranium for further enrichment, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan have very little in common – even in their viewpoints on a nuclear-armed Iran.
Erdogan may pose as Tehran's dear friend but he is terrified of his big neighbor to the east becoming a Muslim superpower with a nuclear bomb. Ankara would then be obliged to acquire its own. Turkey is also leery of Tehran's long reach into the Muslim states of Central Asia, where Turkish and Iranian interests clash.
Lula da Silva is on the make in the global arena, convinced that the rise of a weak, inexperienced president in Washington has given him the opportunity to act as "Liberator" of the Third World – especially Latin America – to gain their freedom from US nuclear and economic hegemony.
He freely admits his aspirations in private conversations.
In view of North Korea's distance and its ties with Beijing, Lula missed the opportunity for playing Grand Mediator in the dispute over Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal, but Iran was tailor-made for the Brazilian's maiden appearance on the world stage.
Indeed, the Islamic Republic suited his agenda down to the ground: No client state, Iran is a Muslim superpower whose rulers are happy to challenge America's military and diplomatic authority any time. The nuclear swap deal was the top item of world news that week and the follow-up event was a fat bonus in terms of Lula's personal prestige.
Iran's nuclear deal kicks off "Non-Aligned" Bloc's founding
Monday, May 17, as Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim ceremonially signed their nuclear deal in Tehran – with Erdogan, Ahmedenijad and da Silva linking hands behind them in a show of victory – delegations of the G-15 nations took their seats around a conference table not far away in the Iranian capital.
The Group of 15 (G-15) developing nations was established at the Ninth Non-Aligned Movement Summit Meeting in Belgrade, Yugoslavia in September 1989 to foster cooperation and ties with the Group of Industrialized Nations. The G-15 now comprises 17 nations, Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kenya, Nigeria, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
They enthusiastically acclaimed the just-signed nuclear deal, brokered by one of their members and unanimously endorsed it, placing the deal at the center of another pivotal event, the founding of the new anti-American Non-Alligned Bloc.
The conference was not a summit. Most of the group's national rulers did not attend in person – possibly because they did not attach the same historic dimension to the occasion as did its sponsors. Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, a good friend of its host, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, wanted to attend but cancelled at the last minute when he realized his Brazilian colleague had stolen his thunder as leader of the South American group.
An emerging Third World bloc is an old Cold War symbol
This and other incidents did not detract from the G-15's new-found importance in the developing Cold War between the US and Russia as a Third World bloc filling the expanding space between the powers and leaning more heavily toward Moscow than Washington.
The last thing President Barack Obama sought was this sort of conflict with Russia, but whether or not he decides to participate in the contest, America has been inexorably drawn in. The existence of a third bloc means a second entity is challenging the US as a world power in support of Russia and whether he likes it or not, its presence will be felt strongly worldwide in every diplomatic and military issue of the day.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton underestimated the momentum building up in Tehran.
Just before the Iranian nuclear deal was signed in Tehran, she called the Brazilian and Turkish foreign ministers separately and told them it had become superfluous. Iran, she said, had promised a response to IAEA queries within five or six days and there was no "particular timetable" for getting a UN sanctions resolution passed at the UN Security Council.
Twenty-four hours after the signing, Clinton realized her mistake and swung into action Tuesday, May 18, to assemble a united front for a sanctions motion. She was too late. Turkish and Brazilian leaders were no longer listening. Brazil boycotted the Security Council session, saying there was no longer any need for sanctions after the nuclear pact had been negotiated in Tehran.
Most Muslim nations courted by Obama join the new bloc
And Wednesday, May 19, Ahmadinejad's senior advisor Mojtaba Samareh-Hashemi said the sanctions motion was illegal. Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, confidently backed now by Turkey, Brazil and most G-15 member nations, stated: "There is no chance for a new resolution to be approved at the Security Council… Let's not take this seriously."
The new bloc could count on winning its first battle, fought with Moscow in the background. Its victory was apparent in the wording of the sanctions draft the United States submitted to the Security Council Tuesday. Its provisions are too mild to be worthy of the term sanctions. For instance, searches may be conducted on ships suspected of transporting nuclear materials or missiles to Iran only after the ship's flagged owner is asked for permission.
President Obama's commitment to diplomatic engagement and international cooperation above any other option inhibits his administration's ability to tackle world issues. His secretary of state's handling of the Moscow-backed Brazilian-Turkish coup in Tehran was the first casualty.
Since a cornerstone of his engagement policy is reconciliation between the United States and the Muslim world, contrary to President Bush's confrontational approach, how can Obama stick to this course when most Muslim states have joined the non-aligned grouping and accepted its anti-American orientation?