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Giving the Finger to Iran
Humiliating Turkey and Brazil

By Gary's Choices

May 19, 2010 "Information Clearing House" --  -- Well, that didn’t take long.

In my previous note (yesterday) I wondered if we were smart enough to declare victory and take yes as an answer from Tehran. Today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced that a new package of sanctions against Iran had been approved by the major powers and would be sent to the UN Security Council later in the day.

In case anyone overlooked the significance of this action, which followed by one day the announcement by Brazil and Turkey of the successful conclusion of their negotiations with Iran, she added: “I think this announcement is as convincing an answer to the efforts undertaken in Tehran over the last few days as any we could provide.”

Take that, Tehran! But it turns out that this lifted middle finger was not limited to Iran. Only hours before Clinton’s announcement, the foreign minister of Turkey held his own press conference. Obviously unaware of what was about to happen, he described in some detail not only the tortuous negotiation process with Iran, but his perception that he was acting directly on behalf of the United States.

According to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, he had been in “constant contact” with Clinton herself and with national security adviser James Jones, while his prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had face-to-face encouragement from President Obama in December and April.

The objective of Turkey and Brazil was to persuade Iran to accept the terms of an agreement the United States had itself promoted only six months ago as a confidence-building measure and the precursor to more substantive talks. There were twelve visits back and forth between the Turk and his Iranian counterpart, some 40 phone conversations, and eighteen grueling hours of personal negotiations leading up to the presentation of the signed agreement on Monday.

What they wanted us to do was give the confidence to Iran to do the swap. We have done our duty,” said Davutoglu, calling the deal an important step for regional and global peace. “We were told that if Iran gives 1,200 kg without conditions, then the required atmosphere of trust would be created [to avoid sanctions]. So if we do all these things, and they still talk about sanctions … [it] will damage the psychological trust that has been created.”

The Turks and Brazilians, who felt they had “delivered” Iran on the terms demanded by the United States, were surprised and disappointed at the negative reactions from Washington. Little did they know that their success in Tehran, which had been given a 0-30 percent chance just days earlier, came just as the Americans were putting the final touches on a package of sanctions to be presented to the UN Security Council. The Tehran agreement was as welcome as a pothole in the fast lane, and the Americans were not reluctant to let their displeasure be known.

The five major powers had made up their minds (without consulting other members of the Security Council that currently includes both Turkey and Brazil), and these two mid-level powers were told in so many words to get out of the way.

The gratuitous insult aside, which approach do you believe would most likely result in real progress in slowing or halting Iran’s nuclear program? We have been imposing ever-greater sanctions on Iran for more than fifteen years. When we started they had zero centrifuges; today they have in excess of 9,000. To those who believe that one more package of sanctions will do what no other sanctions have done so far, I can only say I admire your unquenchable optimism.

More likely the Turkish ambassador to the UN had it about right when he said quite plainly about sanctions, “They don’t work.”

Would a negotiating track do better, perhaps mediated by two middle-level powers who have built up some credibility with Iran, like Algeria when it finally engineered the end to the US-Iran hostage crisis in 1980-81?  We’ll never know. Tonight the hardliners in Iran (and their American counterparts) are celebrating.

The Iranian hardliners had already begun asking questions about the deal, fearful that Iran had given away too much. Now they don’t have to worry since everyone knows that Iran will never be willing or able to negotiate under the threat of sanctions.

For the Revolutionary Guards it is a huge bonus. As foreign companies are driven away, the Guards progressively take over more and more of the economy. And as restrictions on trade grow, so do their opportunities to manage the immensely profitable smuggling routes. Like their American counterparts, but for different reasons, they thrive on an environment of threat and isolation.

The presidents of Turkey and Brazil have been humiliated. But the Great Powers are confident that their lesser cousins know their place and will show deference when the chips are down. They’ll do what they have to do. They always do.

Don’t they… ?

Iran Agrees to Nuclear Fuel Swap - WSJ.com

May 17, 2010 -- What to make of the new nuclear agreement by Turkey and Brazil with Iran?

Perhaps the main point is to be reminded of the moral from the old folk tale: Be careful of what you wish for, since you just might get it. The United States took a rather righteous position that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the West had made Iran a remarkably generous offer, and when it was rejected they had no choice but to go all out for sanctions.

There are those in Washington (but also in Paris and London) who were fully committed to passing a strong sanctions resolution in the United Nations Security Council next month, and this is a blow to them and all the intense diplomatic work they have done in the past five or six months. Clearly, it will be immensely more difficult, if not impossible, to get a sanctions resolution if this deal is on the table.

According to preliminary information, the agreement provides that Iran will, within a month, ship 1240 kg of roughly 5 percent low enriched uranium (LEU) to Turkey where it will be held in escrow for up to a year until Iran is provided with 120 kg of fuel cells (uranium enriched to near 20 percent) to replace the nearly exhausted fuel of the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) that makes medical isotopes. This represents more than half of the 2065 kg of LEU that Iran had produced as of February according to the IAEA, and it greatly reduces Iran’s capability to produce enough fissile material for a bomb.

We should all be reminded of the original purpose of the agreement. It was intended as a confidence-building measure that would open the way to more substantive discussions of other issues. The original offer that Iran provisionally accepted in October tacitly accepted Iran’s right to enrich uranium; in return Iran would give up control over a significant portion of its existing stash of LEU. Even low enriched uranium can be further enriched to create bomb-grade (roughly 90+ percent) highly enriched uranium (HEU) that is required for a bomb. The October agreement would have created an environment conducive to at least minimal mutual trust and the beginning of serious negotiations.

Note to negotiators: In the past six months, Iran has not used its LEU to build a bomb, even without an agreement.

Iran has set up a special line of centrifuges to enrich uranium to the 20 percent required for the TRR. But that line is small, separated from its other enrichment facilities, and under inspection of the IAEA. The move to enrich some uranium to 20 percent was obviously intended as a pressure tactic to drive the West back into negotiations, since Iran does not have the capability to manufacture fuel cells for the TRR.

We should also be reminded that Iran did not reject the original deal: they proposed amending it. Basically, when the Iranian negotiators came home with the proposed deal, they were attacked from all sides – including members of the Green Movement – for being suckers. Their opponents pointed out that they were going to rely on the word and good will of Russia (where the LEU would be enriched to 20 percent) and France (where the fuel cells would be fabricated). Iranians from left to right argued that both of these countries had repeatedly cheated Iran on nuclear issues: Russia by delaying endlessly the completion of the nuclear power plant at Bushehr, and France by refusing to grant Iran rights to the Eurodif enrichment facility partially owned by Iran since the days of the shah. Why, they asked, should we believe that this agreement will be any different?

Instead, they proposed that the swap of LEU for the fuel cells should happen on Iranian soil, probably in stages and within a fixed period of time. That idea was rejected by the United States and its negotiating partners.

The new bargain appears to be a compromise in which the LEU would physically be removed from Iran and held in escrow in Turkey for up to a year, in which time the fuel cells would be manufactured and delivered to Iran. The new bargain also appears to go much further in formally recognizing the legitimacy of Iran’s independent enrichment program. That should not be a surprise given the fact that Brazil, one of the parties to the bargain, has its own enrichment facility similar to Iran’s and in fact concealed its details for some time.

So where does that leave us?

Essentially, it takes us back to last October. The one big difference is that Iran has more LEU now than it did then. But the reality is that Iran will keep producing LEU unless a new agreement is reached to persuade them to stop. If we had completed the agreement of a swap in October, Iran would have the same amount of LEU as it has now. If we wait another six months for negotiations, Iran will have still more LEU.

In short, this agreement is largely symbolic and limited in its practical effects. If the West accepts the deal as worked out by Brazil and Turkey, and if a new round of negotiations begins – on both the nuclear and other major issues – then this could be a breakthrough. If the West turns it down, or if the two sides do not use it to negotiate some of the major issues that separate them, then nothing much will have been accomplished.

The next step is up to the United States and its negotiating partners.

Although angst is high among the sanctions-at-all-costs crowd, this path to a nuclear swap deal was fully endorsed by the United States and was the centerpiece of the justification for sanctions. One way to respond at this point may just be to declare that our threat of sanctions worked: Iran has capitulated and we accept yes as an answer.

Hmmm…are we that smart?

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