How Dare They Make a Deal With Iran?

“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,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on START (strategic arms reduction treaty) on May 18, announcing the introduction of a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council and thus sharply rebuking the nuclear fuel agreement announced by Turkey, Iran, and Brazil in Tehran a day earlier. In essence, she was telling Turkey and Brazil, “How dare you make a deal with Iran?”

The Tehran agreement has endangered the possibility of imposing new sanctions on Iran. That seems to be the reason why the Obama administration is so  annoyed by the agreement, as it was outsmarted by the Iranians once again. It took the U.S. government only one day to demonstrate to the world – if any demonstration was needed – that it is not interested in reaching a reasonable compromise on Iran’s uranium enrichment program. All the talk by the president about pursuing diplomacy with Iran is just that, talk. The administration’s plan all along has been to go through the diplomatic motions, as Israel’s man in the White House, Dennis Ross, wanted, in order to set the stage for crippling sanctions and possibly war against Iran.

Clinton, having a hard time hiding her irritation with the new agreement, told the Senate that the U.S. and its “partners” will seek new sanctions against Iran. The administration introduced a draft proposal for the sanctions, and Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, held a press conference to unveil the new resolution.

That has shocked most of the sane world. After all, this was Obama’s own plan, because in his view shipping Iran’s uranium to another country would deny Iran a breakout capability for making nuclear weapons, even though there is actually no evidence that Iran wants, or has a plan to make, nuclear weapons.

On Oct. 11, 2009, the Washington Post quoted an Obama administration official as saying, “This is a real confidence-building measure…. If they say they need it for medical purposes, we are offering it to them. If they accept it, it is LEU [low-enriched uranium] coming out. If they reject it, it is another data point that says, ‘Look, these guys are not serious.’” So what happened to all that rhetoric?

Obama seems to be incapable of taking “yes” for an answer. Thus, to justify its absurd position and backtracking, his administration raised the bar for Iran. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley declared, “[T]he United States continues to have concerns about the arrangement. The joint declaration does not address the core concerns of the international community. Iran remains in defiance of five UN Security Council resolutions, including its unwillingness to suspend enrichment operations. In fact, today [May 17] Iran reaffirmed that it plans to continue to enrich uranium to 20 percent despite the fact that it previously justified this increased enrichment as for the Tehran research reactor. So public statements today suggest that the TRR [Tehran research reactor] deal is unrelated to it ongoing enrichment activity. In fact, they are integrally linked.” Crowley then reiterated that the U.S. “respects” the efforts by Brazil and Turkey, but not that the U.S. actually supports them in any way, and that the administration had not contacted Brazil and Turkey and was continuing its effort on sanctions unabated.

But linking shipping of Iran’s uranium to Turkey with Iran’s suspension of its enrichment activities is dishonest. This administration, like its predecessor, makes things up as it goes forward. It has created its own alternative universe in which the world has no memory whatsoever and, therefore, any lie can be said. And the demand that Iran must suspend its uranium enrichment activities is a carbon copy of George W. Bush’s demand.

When the preliminary agreement regarding the exchange of Iran’s low-enriched uranium with fuel for the TRR was reached on Oct. 1, 2009, there was no link between the swap and Iran’s suspension of its uranium enrichment activities. It was supposed to be a confidence-building step toward the eventual agreement.

The administration’s rejection of the deal comes at a time when, despite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric about a victory over the West, Iran has actually retreated from its original demands of last year. It had demanded that the swap take place on Iran’s soil, that the swap be carried out in stages, not all at once, and that the exchange be simultaneous. According to the agreement brokered by Brazil and Turkey, Iran will ship more than half of its current stockpile of low-enriched uranium to Turkey, it will do so all at once, and it will wait up to one year to receive fuel for the TRR, which is uranium enriched at 19.75 percent.

Moreover, the very fact that Iran agreed to ship its uranium abroad for further enrichment and conversion to fuel rods can be the basis for future negotiations. In the past Iran had always insisted that all the work for producing nuclear fuel must be done on its soil.

The quick rejection of the deal comes while the month-long talks in New York on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) are still going on, making it clear that what the U.S. and its European allies are interested in, more than anything else, is a quick diplomatic “victory” over Iran to bring other dissenters at the conference in line.

The Guardian reported that the conference may collapse because of wrangling over a goal that Iran and other Muslim nations have been advocating: a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. The idea is to force Israel to publicly admit what the world already knows, namely, that it has up to 400 nuclear warheads, as the first step toward eliminating them.

But if this is the treatment that Iran is going to get, even after what amounts to capitulation to the original U.S. plan of last year, who is going to trust the U.S. about any goal that it has at the NPT conference? It may turn the conference into a fiasco far worse than what happened in 2005, when the last NPT conference took place.

Brazil and Turkey have not hidden their anger with U.S. behavior. Both are currently non-permanent members of the UN Security Council, and they will not simply roll over. They have already begun to lobby the other eight non-permanent members of the Security Council to reject the new push for sanctions against Iran, or at least slow it down.

Speaking at a press conference in Brasilia after returning from Tehran, Brazil’s Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said the agreement brokered by Brazil and Turkey brought “‘significant advances’ in the standoff between Iran and the West over its nuclear energy program.” He stressed that Brazil has no reason to believe that Iran’s nuclear program has military objectives, as the U.S. and its allies have been insisting, and he questioned the wisdom of imposing further economic sanctions on Iran. “This was the first time ever Iran has accepted a proposal in writing, without questions,” Amorim said.

In June, Lebanon will take over the presidency of the Security Council, and it has already announced its support of the new agreement with Iran. That has already denied the U.S. and its European allies three crucial votes in the UN Security Council. If the trio votes against the sanctions, as expected, it will provide political cover for others to do the same.

And, given the new agreement with Iran, China will surely resist more strongly any sanctions. It has already declared its support for the agreement with Iran. A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, Ma Zhaoxu, said his government believes the efforts by Brazil and Turkey will “aid the process of peacefully resolving the Iran nuclear issue through dialogue and negotiations.” Russia warned the U.S. and its allies in the EU against adopting individual sanctions that go beyond the draft resolution that has been introduced in the Security Council, the Ria Novosti news agency reported Wednesday. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying after a phone conversation with Clinton, “There is information that the U.S. and the European Union are not limiting themselves to a common position on Iran in the UN Security Council and want to introduce additional, one-sided sanctions.” Such leverage could breach international laws, he said.

Iranian officials and influential politicians have already said that the deal is off if new sanctions are approved. Speaker of the parliament Ali Larijani and his deputy, Mohammad Reza Bahonar, said that Iran will not ship out its uranium if new sanctions are approved.

The new sanctions will not make any difference in the standoff between Iran and the U.S. They will further empower the hardliners in Tehran who reject any compromise, and they will hurt the democratic Green Movement, which needs the removal of any foreign threat against Iran in order to pursue its goals.

As I have been saying for years, the confrontation between Iran and the U.S. and its allies over Iran’s nuclear program is not about Iran being more transparent or cooperative. Regardless of how much Iran compromises, allowing inspection of every inch of its territory by the IAEA and even shipping out its LEU, nothing will satisfy the U.S. and Israel except Iran giving up its inalienable rights to uranium enrichment.

Author: Muhammad Sahimi

Muhammad Sahimi, Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science and the NIOC Chair in Petroleum Engineering at the University of Southern California, is co-founder and editor of the website, Iran News & Middle East Reports.