Compliance with universal norms is one of the most important aspects of the global order. Iran, through the conduct of its nuclear programme, is seen as a challenger of the global non-proliferation norms, which enjoy almost universal recognition. South Africa's policy on Iran has been extremely puzzling - a rising power in the international system, subscribing to a global norm of nuclear nonproliferation, but challenging the interpretation and application of that norm. This contribution asks why this is the case, and demonstrates that South Africa's policy towards the Iranian nuclear programme has been clearly marked by a strongly held belief regarding the value of negotiations, a distrust of the global North, and a preference for a wide multilateral approach in institutions. © 2012 The South African Institute of International Affairs.