Iran nuclear fuel swap: how Turkey is complicating US aims

The Iran nuclear fuel swap was brokered by Turkey and Brazil. Even if it falls through, it indicates that countries like the US can no longer expect quiet compliance from rising powers.

Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters
The Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Turkey along with the Foreign Minister and President of Brazil are seen with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (c.) during the 32nd Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the G-15 in Tehran, Monday. An Iran nuclear fuel swap was brokered by Turkey and Brazil, Monday.

The deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil with Iran over its growing uranium stockpile will face tough questions, and like an earlier agreement offered by world powers last October, it may ultimately fail.

But even if it does, the Iran nuclear fuel swap signals a new era in international relations – when the UN Security Council’s permanent members can no longer expect quiet compliance from rising middle powers like Turkey and Brazil.

“This is an early indicator of the diffusion of power away from the post-World War II players, of a transition that has already begun to take shape,” says Charles Kupchan, an expert in geopolitics at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

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In a statement Monday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the US “acknowledge[s] the efforts that have been made by Turkey and Brazil,” but that “the United States and the international community continue to have serious concerns” about Iran’s nuclear program.

Calling the agreement reached “vague” on a number of key issues, the White House said that Iran still has to demonstrate through “deeds” its compliance with international obligations “or face consequences, including sanctions.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appears to have been caught off guard by Brazil and Turkey’s diplomacy and by the new weight of secondary powers more generally. On Friday she predicted the Brazilian-Turkish mission to Tehran would fail and have no impact on US efforts to slap new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. But by Monday, the US was scrambling to assess the impact of the diplomatic breakthrough on momentum for sanctions.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov went further than the US. After a speech in Washington Monday, he said he would not be surprised, despite the Brazilian-Turkish initiative, if the Security Council resolution that the US has been promoting “passed for a vote in the very near future.”

Mr. Ivanov said he rejected any “link” between the push for a fourth round of sanctions on Iran and the latest diplomatic initiative by two nonpermanent members of the Security Council.

Ivanov said he could envision both paths – sanctions and Monday’s enriched-uranium deal – moving forward. And in a year’s time, the decision will be that “Iran is on the right track, and [a new Security Council] resolution will not be forever.”

But in any case, he insisted, the Iran issue “will still be in the ‘Big Six’ countries’ hands, definitely” – meaning the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany, or the so-called P5+1.

Iran’s willingness to strike a deal that would move just over half of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to Turkey suggests the Iranian regime’s lingering mistrust of Western and global power.

“Iran finds it much easier to strike a bargain with two powers that are not perceived as being part of the reigning order [or] doing the bidding of the US and its Western partners,” says Mr. Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad often criticizes the global power structure, enshrined in the UN Security Council, that dates from the UN’s creation after World War II. He finds common ground with countries like Turkey, Brazil, and India that are aspiring to greater regional or even global power, Kupchan says.

Within hours of the announcement of the new uranium deal, Iranian officials were already clouding the picture by stating that uranium enrichment would continue on Iranian soil even if part of the stockpile were transferred to Turkey – a point the White House zeroed in on as “a direct violation of UN Security Council resolutions.”

Such pronouncements dampened prospects of a breakthrough and raised the possibility that the new initiative could end up a blip in the standoff between Iran and the international community.

But “even if a few weeks from now Turkey and Brazil find they have been duped,” Kupchan says, the middle powers’ “quest for a larger place at the diplomatic table will continue.”

IN PICTURES: Who has nukes?


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