Brazil President Visits To Weigh Iran's Options

The president of Brazil is due in Tehran Sunday, in an effort to head off U.S.-led sanctions against Iran in the U.N. Security Council. Tehran has maintained it is unfazed by economic sanctions, but this effort at mediation by Brazil suggests Iran's government is working hard to avert another round of sanctions, likely to come to a vote in the Security Council next month.

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If Iran continues on its current course of expanding its nuclear activities, it will trigger new sanctions in the U.N. Security Council. The United States supports the measures, but Iran, unsurprisingly, is trying to avert them. Leaping into this tricky diplomatic terrain is the president of Brazil, who's traveling to Tehran today.

Here's more from NPR's Mike Shuster.

MIKE SHUSTER: Over the past months, Iran has been on an intense diplomatic campaign to line up support in the U.N. Security Council to block any new sanctions. Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was in Uganda at the end of April. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki made trips to Austria and Bosnia. Now, Brazil's president, Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva, is in Tehran to meet with Ahmadinejad.

The United States is leading the effort to impose tougher sanctions. On Friday, Secretary of State Clinton expressed the belief that Iran won't move until there's a new sanctions vote in the Security Council.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): Contrary to recent suggestions, Iran has not indicated any interest in or accepted the standing offer of the P5-Plus-1 to discuss international concerns over its nuclear program. Rather, Iran's senior officials continue to say they will not talk about their nuclear program with us.

SHUSTER: The United States has had numerous meetings with the other four permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany - the group is known as the P5-Plus-1 - in an effort to craft a sanctions resolution that all can support.

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, says the meeting in Tehran should help to clarify the matter.

Ms. SUSAN RICE (U.S. Ambassador to U.N.): I think the progress that the P5 is making, in fact, perhaps strengthens President Lula's hand as he delivers a message in Tehran that we hope will be, pressure is mounting. Iran continues to have a choice. Assuming it continues to make the wrong choices, that pressure will intensify.

SHUSTER: The permanent members of the Security Council all want Iran to stop enriching uranium and stop expanding its enrichment capabilities. Iran refuses to do that, but has now resurrected a deal to turn its low-enriched uranium into fuel for a research reactor in Tehran.

Originally, the U.S. proposed the deal, but the terms Tehran is offering are no longer acceptable to the Obama administration. So, now Iran is hoping that it can enlist other nations, especially those now holding seats on the Security Council, to block the U.S.

Abbas Milani, director of Iran Studies at Stanford University, says that does not appear to be working.

Professor ABBAS MILANI (Director, Iran Studies, Stanford University): They have essentially based their entire foreign policy strategy on the idea that they can use China, Russia and now Brazil and Turkey to break any international resolution against them.

SHUSTER: Russia has already indicated it could support new sanctions. China does not like sanctions, but now does not look like it will stand in the way. Brazil and Turkey and are non-permanent members of the council. Their leaders seem to have a genuine desire to avoid more sanctions but in the end it may be difficult to defy the U.S. and vote against them. That's why President Lula is eager to convince Iran to compromise before it comes to another sanctions vote.

There's no doubt Iran wants to avoid more sanctions, says Muhammad Sahimi, who writes for the website Tehran Bureau.

Mr. MUHAMMAD SAHIMI (Tehran Bureau): They don't want any new sanctions because they know that it will worsen the already bad economic situation in Iran. And that, together with the political unhappiness and repression, that would make the situation very explosive.

SHUSTER: A vote on sanctions at the U.N. could come in early June, just as Iran's domestic opposition is likely to call for street demonstrations to mark the anniversary of last year's disputed presidential election.

Mike Shuster, NPR News.

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