Política Internacional

Brazil-Iran Relations: What to Expect from a Post-Sanctions Era, by Cristine K. Zanella

On July 31st, 2006, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 1696 (2006), the first one related to Iran’s allegedly nuclear weapons program. Including the aforementioned resolution and the Resolution 2231 (2015), which confirmed the agreement negotiated by the five permanent members plus Germany with Iran, the UNSC has approved a package of eight mandatory resolutions on the matter so far:  Resolutions 1696 (2006), 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008), 1835 (2008), 1887 (2009), 1929 (2010) and 2231 (2015).  They all imposed new sanctions, expanded the existing ones or reinforced the previous resolutions on the matter. This set of sanctions imposed by the UNSC – along with unilateral sanctions imposed by the European Union (EU), United States (US) and other countries like, such as Australia and Japan – transformed the sanctions on Iran into a multilayered sanctions regime (with sanctions at both multilateral and unilateral levels) and one of the most comprehensive systems of economic sanctions ever inflicted.

This comprehensive system is marked by severe consequences, but has also begun to change. Among its features, this regime has imposed financial and trade restrictions on Iran, isolated the country from the international banking system, froze the assets estimated to the amount of US$ 100 billion, and denied the Iranian access to the international oil and gas markets. Nevertheless, this regime started to fade on January 16th, 2016, when the IAEA Director General, Mr. Yukiya Amano, reported that Iran had completed the necessary preparatory steps to commence the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) (IAEA, 2016). These steps had been defined in the JCPOA negotiated in July 2015 by the E3+3 (United Kingdom, France and Germany + United States, China and Russia). Furthermore, the terms of the agreement were endorsed by the UNSC Resolution 2231 (2015) (Security Council, 2015).

In order to fulfill the commitments assumed in the JCPOA, Iran has adopted a series of measures. The country has (i) sent 11 tons of low enriched uranium to Russia, (ii) dismantled more than 4 thousand centrifuges for respecting the limit of authorized units, and (iii) removed the core of its Arak heavy-water nuclear reactor and filled it with cement (Davenport, 2015; Munoz, 2015; Williams et al., 2015). With the implementation day – when the UN watchdog on nuclear issues stated that Iran has fully complied with the commitments assumed on the JCPOA –, Iran is prone to take a new step on the nuclear-related activities control with the provisional execution of the Additional Protocol to its Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA (IAEA, 2016).

Following the JCPOA, during the second half of 2015, several countries sent delegations to Iran in order to strength cooperation, by searching for access to the 78- million-people market of a country eager to consume technology, goods, and to establishing cooperation in a wide range of areas, from tourism to trade and industry. Iran is also an energy-rich country: it owns the fifth largest proved crude oil reserves and the second largest natural gas reserves in the world (EIA 2015). On July 14th, 2015, following the JCPOA adoption and as a signal of pursuing opportunities on a likely context of lifting sanctions, different countries started what could be called a race for Iran. So much so that France sent its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Laurent Fabius, two weeks after it had signed the JCPOA.  During the visit, Mr. Fabius conveyed an invitation from President François Hollande to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani to visit France (Wilkin, 2015). Moreover, Germany paid a high-level visit, with foreign ministry officials, including the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in October (IRNA, 2015b); Japan’s Foreign Minister, Mr. Fumio Kishida, also visited Iran in October and negotiated an investment deal to protect the assets of Japanese firms investing in the country after the sanctions’ end (Japan_Times, 2015); and, finally, Italy sent a 370-people delegation and signed cooperation agreements in November (Iran_Daily, 2015).

Skillful Brazilian diplomat Mr. Celso Amorim presented an accurate interpretation on what Mr. Fabius´ visit represented. On an article published in early August 2015, entitled “The Teheran’s road” (freely translated from the Portuguese title “A Estrada de Teerã”), Mr. Amorim stated that many countries would start to move in order to ensure their access to the Iranian market and commodities. Initially as a Brazil’s representative to the UN and then as the Brazilian Minister of External Relations, Mr. Amorim followed the procedures of adoption, implementation and lifting of many economic sanctions regimes, including the very  harmful comprehensive sanctions regime adopted against Iraq. When analyzing the French movement and describing it as “carrying the flag that precedes the trade” Mr. Amorim was also in some way predicting that other diplomatic bodies would soon do the same. In fact, since the adoption of the JCPOA, an increasing number of countries have taken “The Teheran’s road”, to quote the expression used by Mr. Amorim as the title of his text (Amorim, 2015).

In 2010, after the UN denial to recognize the Teheran Declaration, the Brazilian diplomacy retracted its relations with Iran. This withdraw can be ascribed to two main reasons. It can be partially seen as the delusion at the adoption of more sanctions – despite Brazil’s and Turkey’s engagement in the Iranian matter and their diplomatic achievements with the Teheran Declaration of  May 17th, 2010. It can be still be partially due to a significant change in the profile of the new president of Brazil. Mrs. Dilma Rousseff’s low priority to international issues and her objections to Iran’s human rights violations have strongly contributed to cool down the Brazil-Iran relations from 2011 onwards. Like other of her counterparts, Mrs. Roussef refused to meet the Iranian president, Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at UN Rio+20 Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 2012, in a clear signal of the retraction of bilateral relations.

In spite of any personal and eventual domestic resistances, after the JCPOA, Brazil put its flag in the suitcase and set Iran as a destination once again. On September 12th, Brazilian Minister of External Relations, Mr. Mauro Vieira, arrived in Teheran to meet high-ranking Iranian officials, including the President Hassan Rouhani. Regarding this visit, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mr. Mohammad Javad Zarif, stressed that Iran would not forget Brazil’s positive role on the nuclear issue (Iran_International_Magazine, 2015). Mr. Zarif’s declaration referred to the efforts made by Brazil and Turkey, under the respective governments of Mr. Lula da Silva and Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, leading to a negotiated solution which resulted in the aforementioned Declaration of Teheran. According to Brazil, Turkey, and Iran, this agreement represented an opportunity for diplomacy. The refusal of the UNSC in both recognizing these efforts and engaging in a negotiated solution with Iran led both Brazil and Turkey, which were members of the UNSC at that moment, to vote against the Resolution 1929 (2010), which imposed additional sanctions on Iran (Security Council, 2010). Mr. Zarif’s stance seems to be a signal that Brazil-Iran relations, albeit cooled off for a few years, could benefit from a long-run history relying on key moments of support and positive results for diplomacy.

On October 26th, the Brazilian Minister of Development, Industry and Trade traveled to the East. Mr. Armando Monteiro visited Teheran as the head of a 35-member economic delegation.  He aimed to strengthen Brazil-Iran relations in strategic areas, such as foreign trade, energy, banking, agriculture and investment. This is an important mission: according to Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mr. Mohammad Javad Zarif, Teheran and Brasilia believe that the enterprising, banking and economic institutes can play an important role in developing common interests held by both countries (Presstv, 2015). Two months later, on December 16th,  the Iranian Minister of Industries, Mines and Trade, Mr. Mohammad Reza Ne’matzadeh, who was in Kenya, declared that Brazilian Minister of External Relations, Mr. Mauro Vieira, voiced that Brazil supported Iran’s accession to the World Trade Organization and that Brazil was preparing a draft for promoting mutual relations that would be soon presented to Iran (IRNA, 2015a).

At the end of the year, it was Iran’s turn to demonstrate its clear interest in strengthening ties with Brazil. By revealing that “one of the country’s major oil policies for the post-sanction period is to construct of purchase shares of foreign oil refineries,” the Director of National Iranian Oil Refining and Distribution Company (NIORDC), Mr. Abbas Kazemi, described that he had had “numerous negotiations with a major oil company in Brazil to build refineries in the South American country.” According to Mr. Kazemi, the investment would be shared between the government in Iran and the private sector in Brazil. The Brazilian government would finance part of the investment in the form of a loan (IRNA, 2015c). On  January 10th, 2016 – less than one week before the lifting of sanctions against Iran –, Iran’s Petrochemical Commercial Company revealed its plans to open sales offices in four countries, including Brazil, after the removal of sanctions (IRNA, 2016).

The implementation day did come on January 16th, 2016. Shortly after the announcement of the Implementation Day at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, the U.S. President, Mr. Barack Obama, issued an executive order, and the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Mrs. Federica Mogherini, announced that the application of nuclear-related economic, banking, financial and energy sanctions had finally ceased. Most of the UN sanctions on the country terminated with the IAEA´s confirmation that Iran had fulfilled its commitments under the nuclear deal of July 2015. Considering that imposing an economic sanctions regime is politically easier than lifting it, especially at the multilateral level, the achievement on  January 16th, 2016 is to be celebrated. Even the US further imposition of sanctions against some Iranian firms due to the ballistic missile program of Iran does not curb at all the accomplishment in lifting the comprehensive regime of sanctions related to the nuclear program. These ballistic missile sanctions had not been imposed before the implementation day for not disturbing the process of lifting the nuclear sanctions. Also, they mainly represented a response for marking a formal distance from Iran and for reporting to an American audience against the termination of nuclear sanctions.

In this new scenario, Brazil can move toward transforming its previous diplomatic movements into effective cooperation projects, investments and opportunities. Brazil is a valuable partner for Iran in view of its traditionally important position in the regional – and why not to say? – international scenario. Brazil benefits from its broadly and longtime recognized mediating skills and from an aura of international good citizenship, which is a good asset for Iran, after more than 10 years living as a pariah state in international arenas; Brazil is the seventh largest economy in the world, a key player in the food security matter and the main Iran’s commercial partner in Latin America; Brazil can provide cooperation in the development of nuclear civil capacities according to the international rules;  and finally, Iran’s benefits from strengthening ties with Brazil as part of its strategy of joining the BRICS bank and eventually other trade, finance and cooperation agencies created by these emerging states.

On the Iranian side, advantages can be equally envisaged. Iran represents a market of 78 million people to Brazil; it can also be an access to other Central Asia markets. Due to the long-run implementation plan starting now and involving the controlling of nuclear activities of Iran, Brazil can play an important role in the creation of new forms to make the nuclear energy technology available for civil purposes. Naturally, mutual investments in petrochemical industries and markets, which already seem to be part of bilateral negotiations in course, also seem to be a promising field to explore. Both sides have interests in place; therefore, promising opportunities emerge in a close horizon of bilateral relations. Now the challenge for Brazilian diplomacy is to find a way to draw Iran’s attention into the increasingly crowded international road to Teheran.


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Cristine Koehler Zanella is Doctor in Political Sciences (UGent, Belgium) and Doctor in “International Strategic Studies” – “Estudos Estratégicos Internacionais” (UFRGS, Brazil). (cristine.zanella@ufrgs.br)

Cite this article as: Editoria, "Brazil-Iran Relations: What to Expect from a Post-Sanctions Era, by Cristine K. Zanella," in Revista Mundorama, 28/01/2016, https://mundorama.net/?p=17993.

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