Iran Sanctions: Getting to Nine

Assuming that Russia and China do not veto a new sanctions resolution on Iran, the question becomes whether a draft resolution can win the necessary nine votes on the Council as a whole. Normally, when the permanent five (P5) agree on something, the rest of the Council goes along for the ride. But the P5’s legitimacy is often questioned, and the current Council includes some powerful players who might be tempted to buck the P5. 

If Moscow and Beijing abstain, six of the nonpermanent Council members must vote yes. With affirmative votes from Russia and China, only four nonpermanent votes would be needed. Tehran has already launched a diplomatic blitz to sway some of these countries. Here’s a preliminary assessment of where the Council members stand:

Austria: Iran’s foreign minister Mottaki visited Austria in late April to meet with IAEA officials and took the opportunity to lobby Austrian leaders. He appears to have made little headway. After their meeting, Austria’s foreign minister said “the train is moving in the direction of sanctions and I made it clear to Minister Mottaki that we expect Iran to prove its willingness to cooperate.” Assessment:  Very likely to vote yes.

Bosnia: Might feel some pressure to vote against sanctions or to abstain. Iran provided support to Bosnia’s beleaguered Muslims during the 1992-1995 war, when much of the world was looking the other way. But Bosnia is also seeking EU and NATO membership, and NATO just granted Bosnia an action plan for membership. Assessment: leaning toward yes but may take cue from key members such as Turkey.

Brazil: Has sought to be an intermediary between Tehran and the West, even attempting to broker a new deal on nuclear fuel. In March, President Lula da Silva insisted that “it’s not time for an embargo, not for sanctions; it’s time for us to talk a little more.” A Brazilian “no” vote would be a bold assertion of independence from the P5, whose control of the Council Brazil resents. If the Western powers aren’t careful, Brazil might choose to bolster its credentials as leader of the developing world by marshalling opposition to sanctions.  Assessment: on the fence.

Gabon: Was a no-show at the dinner hosted by Iran for Council members in early May, although this may not mean much. France and Russia reportedly have significant business deals in the works with Gabon and may therefore have special influence. Assessment: Not enough information.

Japan: Hawkish on proliferation issues, Japan is all but certain to vote yes.

Lebanon: May be in the most delicate position of all the nonpermanent members. Through its links with Syria and support for Hezbollah, Iran plays a critical role in Lebanese politics. Lebanon holds the Council presidency this month and would find it hard to hide if sanctions came to a vote. Current signs are that a vote may wait until June, which will no doubt be a relief to Lebanese diplomats. Lebanese PM Hariri is slated to visit Washington and New York in late May, which should offer plenty of time for arm-twisting.  Assessment: will likely abstain, particularly if Brazil and Turkey do.

Mexico: On the Council during the run-up to the Iraq war, Mexico finds itself in the hotseat again. And if a sanctions resolution is presented in June, Mexico will hold the rotating Council presidency, giving it special responsibilities for managing the agenda. Mexico resisted American and British pressure to support the Iraq war, but in this case defiance is unlikely. Mexico’s UN ambassador recently insisted that Iran be transparent and comply with all IAEA rules.  Assessment: Likely yes.

Nigeria: The Obama administration has been leaning on Nigeria, and its president received special attention during last month’s nuclear summit. U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns followed up with a trip to Nigeria, where he touted a new “strategic partnership” between the two countries.  Assessment: Leaning toward yes.

Turkey: Has been working with Brazil to forge a compromise. Turkish diplomats have also complained that the P5 countries are not keeping them informed on negotiations and has signaled that it will likely abstain. In response, the U.S. has insisted that it will view an abstention just as it would a “no” vote. Assessment: on the fence.

Uganda: Iranian president Ahmadinejad visited Uganda in April, and the two leaders reportedly discussed Iranian support for an oil refinery as well as other joint projects. Meanwhile, Ugandan president Yuweri Museveni has expressed irritation at the U.S. and Britain recently for its meddling in Ugandan elections.  Assessment: on the fence.

Overall:  At least five of the ten nonpermanent members are leaning toward supporting sanctions. If Russia and China vote for the measure, rather than abstain, that should be enough. But if Moscow or Beijing abstain, things could get interesting.

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About David Bosco

Assistant Professor at American University's School of International Service. Contributing editor at Foreign Policy magazine. Author of Rough Justice: The International Criminal Court in a World of Power Politics and Five to Rule Them All: The UN Security Council and the Making of the Modern World
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One Response to Iran Sanctions: Getting to Nine

  1. Pingback: Security Council members react | Eye on IOs

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