UN should weigh in on legality of Iran strike, Brazil’s foreign minister tells Yahoo News

Brazil's top diplomat said he has asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to consider weighing in on the legality of a possible preemptive strike on Iran.

"No doubt adding an additional flashpoint of military action in a volatile region will greatly exacerbate tensions," Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota told Yahoo News in an interview in New York Tuesday. The international community should proceed "with the utmost caution."

"There is a role for him in this," Patriota said he had proposed to the UN chief. "One sometimes hears the expression, 'all options are on the table.' But some actions are contrary to international law."

Patriota's comments come as the United States, United Kingdom and Russia have asked Israel both privately and publicly not to carry out a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.

Patriota has played a key role as architect of Brazil's foreign policy amid the country's rapid rise into a major global power. Last month, Brazil surpassed the United Kingdom as the sixth largest economy in the world. In another sign of the dizzying pace of the country's rise on the global scene, Brazil has roughly doubled the number of its embassies and consulates around the world in just the past ten years.

Earlier this month, Brazil joined Washington and 11 other nations at the UN Security Council in voting in favor of a resolution that would have condemned Syria's Bashar al-Assad for his brutal crackdown. But Russia and China vetoed the measure, putting into disarray diplomatic efforts to try to stem the spiraling violence in Syria where more than 6,000 people have been killed in the eleven month uprising.

Despite the setback, further diplomatic and humanitarian measures should be tried first before the prospect of another Libya-style military intervention, Patriota said.

He suggested, for instance, that the UN Secretary General should appoint a high-level envoy to Syria. "Someone of Kofi Annan's stature," he said, referring to the former UN chief. Reports Thursday said Annan, indeed, would likely be tapped for the Syria envoy post.

Brazil has had to grow its foreign policy to match its new clout. Historically averse (like many of its Latin American neighbors) to international military interventions—even those for an ostensibly humanitarian cause--Brazil's preference for international diplomatic consensus and negotiated solutions has been challenged by the brutality with which Bashar al-Assad and, until his overthrow, Moamar Gadhafi have set about slaughtering their own people.

Patriota and his foreign ministry colleagues have sought to rise to the moral challenge by presenting Brazil's vision for the principles that should apply in protecting civilians during such conflicts. Their vision-- outlined in a policy paper, "Responsibility while protecting," (.pdf) which was introduced at the UN General Assembly this past fall-- acknowledges cases when populations need outside help without the consent of their rulers. But it warns even noble-minded military interventions bring a whole set of consequences, such as instability and civilian deaths, to the very population the international community is trying to help.

American policymakers say Patriota has long demonstrated a far-reaching vision for the responsibilities that come with Brazil's rising global power.

"I think he has been a critical voice in modernizing Brazil's foreign policy," Bruce Jones, a former United Nations official now with New York University and the Brookings Institution, told Yahoo News in an interview.

When Jones worked for Annan and Patriota as chief of staff to then Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim, Patriota "took a strong position that any international security challenge was something that [Brazil] should help to contribute to try to solve--whether it was directly affected by the problem (such as international terrorism) or not. He saw it as an essential part of the responsibility of a modern state. That we need to help each other."

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