Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August 2010, Pages 28-31
The Turkey-Brazil-Iran Agreement: Thanks, but No Thanks?
The Consequences of Iran's Nuclear Deal
By Patrick Seale
THE DEAL struck in Tehran on Monday, May 17, could largely defuse the international crisis over Iran's nuclear activities—if it is accepted by the international community. It must be counted a considerable contribution to the peace of the region and should be widely welcomed.
The architects of the deal, Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will win plaudits throughout the developing world for their mediation, particularly among those who resent American pressures and detest Israel's unashamed militarism, not least Iran itself and most of its Arab neighbors. Turkey's activist Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is understood to have played a crucial role in the successful outcome.
Hammered out in 18 hours of negotiations with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the agreement provides for Iran to transfer 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium—some 58 percent of its stock—to Turkey within one month, and to receive in exchange 120 kilograms of higher-enriched uranium for medical purposes within one year. As Turkey itself is not equipped to enrich Iran's uranium to the required level, Russia and France are expected to do the job.
Iran has declared that it would submit the agreement formally to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) within a week. Tehran has, however, left no doubt that it intends to continue enriching uranium for peaceful purposes, as it is entitled to do under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), of which it is a signatory. Both Lula and Erdogan have indicated that they believe Iran has a right to atomic energy.
It seems clear, therefore, that hopes of forcing Iran to abandon uranium enrichment altogether have so far not succeeded.
The deal has been greeted with skepticism and hostility in the United States and among some of America's European countries, who tend to dismiss it as a delaying tactic. The New York Times quoted a senior administration official as saying that the agreement "is not a solution for the core of Iran's enrichment program."
Indeed, Washington has interpreted the Tehran agreement as an act of defiance of its global authority, an argument which carries weight with other permanent members of the Security Council. Reluctant to see the initiative in important matters of international security slipping from its hands, the Obama administration has persuaded the permanent members of the Council to circulate a tough draft resolution demanding that Iran suspend uranium enrichment, and adding a long list of restrictions on Iranian military, commercial and financial activities. It remains to be seen whether this manoeuvre can succeed.
Israel's hawkish leaders will be particularly enraged by the Tehran agreement. With high drama and talk of another Holocaust, they repeatedly portrayed Iran as a threat to the entire world and pressed for "crippling sanctions" to put an end to its uranium enrichment. They made no secret of their intention to resort to military strikes if sanctions failed to have the desired effect.
On May 10, Moshe Ya'alon, Israel's deputy prime minister, said the Israeli air force had mastered the necessary techniques for an attack on Iranian nuclear sites—only the latest of Israel's many explicit threats against the Islamic Republic. As the Middle East's only nuclear power, Israel is evidently determined to neutralize a potential regional rival and eliminate any challenge to its military hegemony. It is particularly anxious to prevent any restriction on its unrivalled freedom to strike its neighbors at will.
Israel could now be robbed of a pretext for military action. Its propaganda campaign, evidently intended to draw the United States into armed confrontation with Iran, may have to be reconsidered. With the Afghan war on his hands, as well as unfinished business in Iraq, U.S. President Barack Obama has made it clear that he is against opening a front against Iran.
The sanctions route—led in shrill terms by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton—was meant as an alternative to military action. The aim was to dissuade Israel from any rash military initiative, which might risk drawing in the United States or exposing its troops, bases and Middle East interests to Iranian retaliation.
By putting pressure on Iran, Washington also hoped to soften Israel's stance in the proximity talks with the Palestinians, which Obama's envoy George Mitchell had managed, after persistent efforts, to get started. All these calculations have proved vain and will now have to be reviewed. Obama's foreign policy in these crucial areas has so far been a failure. But this has not yet been recognized in Washington, where the tendency is to dismiss the Tehran agreement and keep the emphasis on tough sanctions.
Several other significant consequences flow from the Tehran agreement. Iran has consolidated its relations with Turkey and Brazil, two rising global powers. It will feel far less isolated on the international scene. Turkey, in turn, can claim a diplomatic triumph to add to its many foreign policy successes of the past year, engineered by Ahmet Davutoglu. He has vastly improved relations with Syria, Iraq and Iran, as well as with a score of other countries in the Balkans, the Caucasus and Central Asia, boosting political and trade ties. Relations with Israel, however, have turned distinctly sour.
Brazil's Lula da Silva, very popular at home because of his promotion of reforms and economic growth, has irritated Washington by drawing close to such anti-American leaders in Latin America as Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, and now to the Iranian president. Before arriving for the crucial talks in Tehran Lula declared: "I must now use everything I have learned over my long political career to convince my friend Ahmadinejad to come to an agreement with the international community." Such sentiments will be hailed in the developing world but are likely to irritate Washington further.
What Lula and Erdogan have shown, however, is that, in dealing with proud and prickly nations like Iran, showing respect, friendship and a willingness to engage in dialogue, however difficult and time-consuming, can yield far better results than sanctions, threats and military confrontation. President Obama seemed to have understood this when he entered the White House in January 2009, but to have since reverted to more traditional American arm-twisting.
Meanwhile, Turkey is deepening and strengthening its relations with all its neighbors, emerging as a key player in the Greater Middle East. A straw in the wind was the launch in April of Turkey's new Arabic-language TV channel—TRT Arabic—which is expected to do far better than its competitors: the American-backed Alhurra, BBC Arabic, France 24, Deutsche-Welle-Arabic and Arabic Russia Today
The opening ceremony of the new Turkish channel was marked by an emotional speech by Prime Minister Erdogan in which he stressed the history, culture and religious faith shared by both Turks and Arabs. His use of Arabic idioms and poetic verses brought his audience cheering to their feet.
If the Tehran agreement sticks, it can only further enhance Turkey's beneficent regional role as a mediator and peace-maker. The intractable Arab-Israeli dispute is in urgent need of its attention.
Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East. His latest book is The Struggle for Arab Independence: Riad el-Solh and the Makers of the Modern Middle East (Cambridge University Press). Copyright © 2010 Patrick Seale. Distributed by Agence Global.
United States Slams Turkey, Brazil over Iran
By Robert Dreyfuss
When the Obama administration decided to move aggressively down the path of more sanctions on Iran, it was not because they thought it would work—they don't—but because they had no idea what to do when United States-Iran talks broke down in late 2009. According to U.S. officials, the United States was simply trying to buy time: By going to the U.N., they could make it look like they were doing something, and ease the pressure from hawks, neoconservatives, and the Israel lobby.
But as a direct result, the administration is now in deep conflict with two close allies, Turkey and Brazil. Those two countries, acting like adults when the United States began behaving like a petulant child, sought to continue the stalled diplomacy, to coax Iran back to the bargaining table. It worked. Brazil's President Lula, visiting Tehran with Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan, won a commitment from Iran to ship about half of its enriched uranium to Turkey, restarting the diplomatic process that ended last year when Iran first accepted a similar deal and then backed off.
Amazingly, the deal that Turkey and Brazil achieved was almost exactly the same as the one that was worked out by the United States and other world powers in Geneva on Oct. 1. President Obama praised that accord, but now that he's pushing for sanctions (that won't work) his minions are denouncing the Brazil-Turkey agreement.
On May 27, at the Brookings Institution, Secretary of State Clinton slammed Brazil:
"I don't know that we agree with any nation on every issue. And certainly we have very serious disagreements with Brazil's diplomacy vis-Ã -vis Iran. And we have told President Lula, and I've told my counterpart the foreign minister [Celso Amorim] that we think buying time for Iran, enabling Iran to avoid international unity with respect to their nuclear program, makes the world more dangerous, not less.
"They [Brazilians] have a theory of the case, they're not just acting out of impulse. We disagree with it. So we go at it. We say well, we don't agree with that, we think that, that the Iranians are using you. And that we think it's time to go to the Security Council, and that it is only after the Security Council acts that the Iranians will engage effectively on their nuclear program."
Brazil and Turkey insisted that the deal with Iran is the right thing to do, defying Clinton's criticism. According to the Wall Street Journal, Lula said: "All the deadlines and dates are being met. We carried out everything they asked for."
And Erdogan added: "The accord with Tehran was a diplomatic victory and those countries that criticize us are merely envious."
They're both right. That didn't stop Thomas Friedman from writing earlier this week in The New York Times that the Brazil-Turkey diplomacy was "as ugly as it gets."
Friedman wrote: "I confess that when I first saw the May 17 picture of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, joining his Brazilian counterpart, Luiz InÃ¡cio Lula da Silva, and the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with raised arms—after their signing of a putative deal to defuse the crisis over Iran's nuclear weapons program—all I could think of was: Is there anything uglier than watching democrats sell out other democrats to a Holocaust-denying, vote-stealing Iranian thug just to tweak the U.S. and show that they, too, can play at the big power table?"
What's as ugly, Friedman, is arrogant, imperialist commentary like that.
Meanwhile, by insisting on useless sanctions with Iran, the Obama administration has deeply alienated two very important countries, making a mockery of Obama's pledge to elevate diplomacy and bridge-building as the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy. He's also used up a lot of political capital to drag Russia and China to support the U.S.-led effort for a fourth round of sanctions against Iran. As Robert Kagan, a neoconservative thinker noted in late May in The Washington Post, President Bush managed to persuade Russia and China to vote for a U.N. sanctions resolution not once, but three times. Kagan is right, even if he's right for the wrong reasons.
So Obama has alienated friends, given up political chips that could win over adversaries, and accomplished precisely nothing vis-Ã -vis Iran.
Robert Dreyfuss is a contributing editor to The Nation magazine, and the author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (Metropolitan). Copyright © 2010 The Nation. Distributed by Agence Global.
Take the Deal, Mr. President
By Patrick J. Buchanan
If Barack Obama is sincere in his policy of "no nukes in Iran—no war with Iran," he will halt this rude dismissal of the offer Tehran just made to ship half its stockpile of uranium to Turkey.
Consider what President Ahmadinejad and the ayatollah himself have just committed to do.
Iran will deliver 1,200 kilograms, well over a ton, of its 2-ton stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Turkey. In return, Iran will receive, in a year, 120 kilograms of fuel rods for its U.S.-built reactor that produces medical isotopes for treating cancer patients.
Not only did Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and President Lula da Silva of Brazil put their prestige on the line by flying to Tehran, the deal they got is a near-exact replica of the deal Obama offered Iran eight months ago.
Why is President Obama slapping it away? Does he not want a deal? Has he already decided on the sanctions road that leads to war?
Has the War Party captured the Obama presidency?
If Iran ships the LEU to Turkey, she would be left with only enough low-enriched uranium for one test explosion. And as that LEU is under U.N. surveillance, America would have a long lead time to act if Iran began to convert the LEU to weapons grade.
How is the Iranian program then an "existential threat" to anyone?
Israel has hundreds of nuclear weapons—America thousands.
Critics say Iran still refuses to shut down the centrifuges turning out low-grade uranium. But if Iran stops the centrifuges, she surrenders her last bargaining chip to get sanctions lifted.
Critics say Iran is trying to abort Hillary Clinton's campaign to have the Security Council impose a fourth round of sanctions. Undeniably true.
But if the purpose of sanctions is to force Iran to negotiate its nuclear program, they are already working. Tehran's latest offer represents real movement.
Critics say Iran will weasel out if we take up the deal. Perhaps. Internal opposition caused Ahmadinejad to back away from Obama's original offer, after he had indicated initial acceptance.
But, if so, Iran will be seen as duplicitous by Turkey and Brazil.
To the world today, the United States appears enraged that Iran is responding to America's own offer, that it is we who do not want a peaceful resolution, that we and the Israelis are as hell-bent on war and "regime change" in Iran as George W. Bush was on war and regime change in Iraq.
While the Brazilians and Turks have surely complicated Hillary's diplomacy, their motives are not necessarily sinister or malevolent.
Lula may be trying to one-up Obama and win a Nobel Prize as he leaves office. But what is wrong with that? Bill Clinton had a Nobel in mind when, in his final days, he went all-out for a Palestinian peace.
And Erdogan leads a country that cannot wish to see Iran acquire nuclear weapons. For Shi'i Iran shares a border with Sunni Turkey, and the two are rivals for influence in the Islamic world and Central Asia.
Moreover, an Iranian bomb would force Turkey to consider a Turkish bomb. Erdogan thus has every incentive to seek a resolution of this crisis, to keep Iran free of nuclear weapons, and avert a war between yet another neighbor and his NATO ally, the United States.
If Obama refuses to take the Iranian offer seriously, it would appear a sure sign that the War Party has taken him into camp and he is departing the negotiating track for the confrontation track that leads to war.
Months ago, Time's Tony Karon asked the relevant question: "What if Ahmadinejad is serious?"
And there are obvious reasons why he might want a deal.
First, Iran runs out of fuel this year for its reactor that produces medical isotopes. And despite Tehran's braggadocio about making fuel rods itself out of its existing pile of uranium, there is no evidence Tehran is technically capable of this.
Iranians dying of cancer because Ahmadinejad failed to get those fuel rods would create enmity toward him, as well as hatred of us for denying them to Iranian cancer patients.
Second, as the U.S. intelligence community yet contends, there is no hard evidence Iran has decided to go nuclear. For this would instantly put Iran in the nuclear gun sights of the United States and Israel. And what benefit would Shi'i and Persian Iran, half of whose population is non-Persian, gain by starting a nuclear arms race in a region that is predominantly Arab and Sunni?
Third, Ahmadinejad leads a nation that is united in insisting on all its rights under the Nonproliferation Treaty, including the right to enrich. But his nation is deeply divided over his regime's legitimacy after last June's flawed, if not fixed, election.
If the United States were to accept Iran's counter-offer, it would be a diplomatic coup for Ahmadinejad.
Maybe that's the problem. The powers that be don't really want a deal with Iran. They want Iran smashed.
Copyright 2010 Creators.com. Reprinted by permission of Patrick J. Buchanan and Creators Syndicate, Inc.
Obama Goes with Neocon Flow on Iran
By Robert Parry
Whether wittingly or witlessly, President Barack Obama is pursuing a neocon-charted path on Iran that parallels the one that George W. Bush took to war with Iraq—ratcheting up sanctions against the "enemy," refusing to tolerate more peaceful options, and swaggering along with the propagandistic tough-guy-ism of the major U.S. news media.
The Obama administration is celebrating its victory in getting the U.N. Security Council on June 9 to approve a fourth round of economic sanctions against Iran. Obama also is expected to sign on to even more draconian penalties that should soon sail through Congress.
Obama may be thinking that his U.N. diplomatic achievement will buy him some credibility—and some time—with American neocons and Israel's Likud government, which favor a showdown with Iran over its nuclear program.
However, the end result of the new sanctions may well be a greater likelihood that the debate within the Iranian government will tilt toward a decision to proceed with ever-higher-level enrichment of uranium and possibly construction of a nuclear bomb as the only means of self-defense.
That may be the opposite of what Obama seeks, but it is what the neocons and Likud would cite as justification for another Middle East war.
Just as the neocons and Israel wanted "regime change" in Iraq, they have long hungered for "regime change" in Iran, too. A favorite neocon joke at the time of the Iraq war was to speculate on which direction to go next, to Syria or Iran, with the punch-line, "Real men to go Tehran!"
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has made clear that he considers the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon an "existential threat" to Israel, one that would justify a military strike. While Israel's powerful air force would likely inflict the first blows, national security analysts believe that the U.S. military would be pulled in to finish off Iran's military capabilities.
The neocon/Likud hope would be that these military attacks would embolden Iran's internal opposition to rise up and overthrow the Islamic system that has governed Iran since 1979, in other words, "regime change." Much like the neocon/Likud thinking about Iraq, however, these grandiose plans often end up with unpredictable and bloody outcomes.
Many war-gamers believe the economic, geopolitical and military consequences of an attack on Iran are impossible to gauge, though some in the U.S. military fear that such a conflict could ignite a regional war and cause serious strategic damage to the United States. [See Consortiumnews.com's "The Bomb-Bomb-Iran Parlor Game."]
Whether President Obama comprehends these risks—or may invite them—is unclear. What is known is that he staffed his administration with a number of hard-liners on Iran, from Hillary Clinton as secretary of state to Rahm Emanuel as White House chief of staff. Voices of moderation, if there are any, have been noticeably silent.
Some analysts believe that the president is a relative "dove" on Iran, citing his private letter to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva that encouraged Brazil and Turkey to work out a deal to get Iran to transfer about half its low-enriched uranium to Turkey in exchange for more highly enriched uranium that could only be used for peaceful medical purposes.
However, after Lula da Silva and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan got Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to agree to that deal, the arrangement was denounced by Secretary of State Clinton and was ridiculed by the major U.S. news media, including The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Even after Brazil released Obama's supportive letter, the president would not publicly defend his position. Instead, his administration pressed ahead with the new round of sanctions.
What is also clear is that tough-guy-ism is running strong, much like it was in the months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
A New York Times editorial on June 10 praised the new round of anti-Iran sanctions, but complained they "do not go far enough." Still, the Times took encouragement from the hope that the United States and European countries might impose much harsher sanctions on their own.
The Times also took another mocking swipe at Brazil and Turkey, which voted against the new sanctions from their temporary seats on the Security Council.
"The day's most disturbing development was the two no votes in the Security Council from Turkey and Brazil," the Times wrote. "Both are disappointed that their efforts to broker a nuclear deal with Iran didn't go far. Like pretty much everyone else, they were played by Tehran."
Though this Times point of view fits with neocon orthodoxy—that any reasonable move toward peace and away from confrontation is a sign of naÃ¯veté and weakness—the fact is that the Iran-Turkey-Brazil deal was torpedoed by the United States, after Obama had encouraged it. This wasn't a case of the two countries being "played by Tehran."
The Real Agenda
The Times star columnist Thomas L. Friedman has more explicitly laid out the real goal regarding Iran, not nuclear safeguards, but "regime change." In a May 26 column, Friedman wrote that the United States should do whatever it can to help Iran's internal opposition overthrow President Ahmadinejad and Iran's Islamic-directed government.
"In my view, the 'Green Revolution' in Iran is the most important, self-generated, democracy movement to appear in the Middle East in decades," Friedman wrote.
"It has been suppressed, but it is not going away, and, ultimately, its success—not any nuclear deal with the Iranian clerics—is the only sustainable source of security and stability. We have spent far too little time and energy nurturing that democratic trend and far too much chasing a nuclear deal."
Friedman's argument again tracks with the neocon case for war with Iran—as he earlier was onboard for war with Iraq—claiming that "regime change" was the only acceptable outcome.
As an institution, The New York Times also played a key role in making war with Iraq inevitable, with bogus reporting about Iraq getting aluminum tubes for nuclear centrifuges. Similarly, in the case of Iran, the Times and other leading U.S. news outlets have promoted the propaganda line that Iran's presidential election last June was "fraudulent" or "rigged."
However, an analysis by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes found that there was little evidence to support allegations of fraud or to conclude that most Iranians viewed Ahmadinejad's re-election as illegitimate.
Not a single Iranian poll analyzed by PIPA—whether before or after the June 12 election, whether conducted inside or outside Iran—showed Ahmadinejad with less than majority support. None showed the much-touted Green Movement's candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi ahead or even close.
"These findings do not prove that there were no irregularities in the election process," said Steven Kull, director of PIPA. "But they do not support the belief that a majority rejected Ahmadinejad." [For details, see Consortiumnews.com's "Ahmadinejad Won, Get Over It!"]
Nevertheless, President Obama has refused to contest Washington's conventional wisdom on the Iranian election or to buck the neocon-favored trend toward a heightened confrontation with Iran.
Having let his administration rebuff the Iran-Turkey-Brazil deal in favor of more U.N. sanctions and soon even tougher U.S. sanctions, Obama has let his foreign policy either drift—or be piloted—toward a worsening crisis.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. This commentary first appeared in <www.consortiumnews.com>, June 10, 2010. Reprinted with permission.