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Siddharth Varadarajan

Sandeep Dikshit

India, Brazil and South Africa should not allow a team of self-appointed countries to monopolise discussions on issues of peace and security in the Middle East, says the Brazilian Foreign Minister.

In a coincidence, three emerging economies as well as democracies from three continents — India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA) — with a different perception from the western countries on the international world order find themselves together in the United Nations Security Council. Foreign Ministers from the three countries met on Tuesday in New Delhi as part of their normal consultation process but due to their presence in the UNSC, they spent considerable time coordinating their positions on the international situation. In an interview to The Hindu, Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio de Aguiar Patriota spoke about what the BRIC grouping is thinking on Libya, West Asia and other international hot spots. Excerpts:

What has changed with the entry of the three BRIC countries in the UNSC, although on a non-permanent basis?

There is a very fortuitous coincidence that the three countries are now in the Security Council at this point. This gives our communiqué even more visibility and authority. We pronounced on so many items that are on the Security Council agenda from Afghanistan to Middle East and Libya to Somalia and others. And one of the important conclusions, although this is not necessarily new, we reaffirmed our determination to coordinate very closely in New York.

What is your sense of how the Libyan issue is going to come up in the Security Council? We hear Britain and France are drafting a no-fly zone resolution. We know from interacting with the Indian Foreign Secretary that India doesn't support the idea of establishing a no-fly zone in Libya.

I am glad to hear [the Foreign Secretary] making this statement. We adopted a paragraph in our joint communiqué that doesn't go into too much detail but it does make an important point for the three countries, which is that any discussion of no-fly zones or any coercive measures additional to those already decided upon in Resolution 1970 will only be legitimate if approved by the Security Council and if discussed within the framework of the U.N. Charter. Now you understand why we say this, because in the past there have been departures. And these departures may seem very expeditious when adopted by countries in question, but ultimately I think they weaken the international system of collective security, they weaken the U.N. and they provoke indirect consequences that are sometimes very prejudicial to the very objectives that we are trying to achieve.

It is very problematic to intervene militarily in situations of internal turmoil. Any decision to adopt no-fly zones or any other military intervention I think needs to be considered not only under the U.N. framework but also in close consultation with neighbouring countries. So there will be an African Union Peace and Security Council Meeting in the forthcoming days in Ethiopia. It is very important to keep in touch with the Arab League and identify what their perception is. We will continue also working closely with Lebanon, which is the Arab member of the Security Council, in New York at this point.

The western nations are moving for a resolution but it is not clear what western military force can achieve considering that after 11 years, Afghanistan continues to remain in a mess …

It's a very good point actually. You know, the point that I often make is that the first obligation of a responsible international community in the case of situations such as Libya is not to make matters worse. And by intervening, you can actually introduce the dimension of anti-U.S., anti-western sentiments, which has not really been present in most of these manifestations in the Arab world so far — I mean, surprisingly, you haven't even seen anti-Israeli slogans. These are very much home-grown manifestations.

Some of the information is confusing. We've seen statements and reports coming out of Benghazi from the opposition forces that are actually speaking out against intervention, that this is something the Libyan people should themselves handle. When the British sent in some SAS operatives, the resistance arrested them actually.

Really? I was unaware of that.

Yes, this happened day before. There were six SAS personnel who landed with British diplomats and made contact with the revolutionaries in Benghazi but were arrested.

It seems to me that Libya is in for a long and painful conflict, something they should sort out themselves. Also, it is a little bit troublesome when you see the media try to create an environment that is more favourable to military intervention by selectively interviewing people and the population. The Arab league has suspended Libya so it's not as if they are complacent towards Libya, but it will be very important to hear what they say.

The IBSA Foreign Ministers have been saying since early 2005-2006 that the three countries should play a role in the Middle East peace process. Do you think IBSA has reached a level of internal cohesion that it could actually play a role in some of these more political questions? Or are they right now still dealing with establishing internal equations among themselves?

Well, I think there is a leadership gap when we look at the situation in the Middle East. I'm not saying that IBSA is ready to fill that gap on its own, but I think it can play a very constructive supporting role, because the three countries have cooperative relations with Israel and with the Arab world — they are multi-ethnic democracies that have demonstrated that they can provide improved livelihood to their own people and engage with the rest of the world in a constructive way diplomatically. Also they were invited to the Annapolis conference, you remember the Annapolis Conference, George Bush deserves some credit for that, for bringing a large number of countries together to move the Peace Process forward — so you had that P 5+1 and India, Brazil and South Africa.

But given the fact that we are in the UNSC this year, I think it might be worth signalling our readiness to play an increasing role in promoting peace. There is also the IBSA Fund Project in the Palestinian territories. So, we discussed the possibility that our high officials travel to the region to inaugurate this project and also for high-level contacts with the Palestinians and the Israelis. This is not to say that we expect the three countries to be capable of significant breakthroughs, but I think it is important that other actors demonstrate their interest in actually what is one of the top issues in the peace and security agenda. I mean, there is no reason why a team of self-appointed countries should monopolise the discussions on promoting peace between Israel and Palestine, and certainly, judging from the stalemates of the past years, their attempts have not been very successful. So may be, you need some additional voices and ideas to generate some progress.

Brazil along with Turkey had played a role in the Iran nuclear question recently. How do you see the state of play in Iran on this issue? Is the Tehran Research Reactor deal dead and buried?

Well, there is more than one way of looking at it. In many ways, it was a missed opportunity for the international community, because if the objective is to obtain certain concessions from the Iranians what the Turkish-Brazilian initiative demonstrated was that through patient conversation, dialogue and negotiations, you could obtain more results than through sanctions and threats. What have the additional sanctions produced? Nothing in the way of the kind of breakthroughs that were accomplished through the Tehran Declaration of May 2010. I believe that the idea behind the agreement — it's not a Turkish or Brazilian idea, we don't claim any intellectual property rights over the proposal itself — had originated at the IAEA and actually had been the object of initial discussions between the P5+1 and Iran, the U.S. included. As you know, President Obama had written to the Turkish Prime Minister and President Lula of Brazil as to what would be a step in the right direction in terms of concession from Iran. So when the agreement materialised it was surprising to Turkey and Brazil that it was not received in the spirit that it was negotiated and that sanctions went ahead, notwithstanding.

Also an additional difficulty, perhaps, is that not only were stronger sanctions adopted by the Security Council, but also unilateral sanctions were adopted by certain actors like the U.S. We do not claim any monopoly of wisdom — if that approach had produced results, who knows, maybe this would have demonstrated the value of going down that road — but we don't see any results coming out of that approach. So, possibly, what is necessary is to keep avenues of communication open, and certainly Brazil's preference is always to find diplomatic solutions to challenges for peace and security, and we will continue to favour such an approach.

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