May 17, 2010

Iranian nuclear deal - real or a delaying tactic?

The Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Turkey along with the Foreign Minister and President of Brazil are seen with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Reuters)

According to the Turks and Brazilians, Iran has agreed to send its uranium abroad in a deal reminiscent of - but much weaker than - the proposed arrangement between Iran and the P5+1 (five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany). That agreement, much heralded and also agreed to by the Iranians at one point, failed last November. This new proposed deal falls far short of that earlier proposal.

Under the new proposal, Iran agrees to ship about half of its low-enriched uranium, referred to as LEU, to Turkey, where it will remain, but under Iranian ownership. The IAEA will monitor the stockpile. In return, the IAEA will deliver fuel to Tehran for Iran's research reactor.

What the deal fails to address is the fact that the amount to be delivered is now much less quantity percentage-wise than earlier, since Iran has not only continued to enrich uranium but increased production. It will also require some further deals with another country because neither Turkey nor Brazil can fabricate the fuel rods called for in the agreement. Iran also can demand the "immediate and unconditional" return of the LEU in Turkey.

Probably most significantly, Iran remains free to continue to enrich uranium to LEU and higher levels without restriction.

This is hardly the type of deal that will satisfy those who believe Iran is developing a nuclear weapon. It does not go far enough to prevent Iran from continuing progress towards a weapons capability.

Of course, the timing is also noteworthy. The United Nations is moving, albeit glacially, towards a fourth sanctions protocol against Iran. The two main holdouts, China and Russia, are permanent members of the Security Council and thus either one can stop the sanctions with their veto. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has lobbied hard to secure Chinese and Russian agreement, and despite her claims, are not imminent.

Russia and China also have extensive commercial dealings with Iran and are looking for any reason not to support sanctions - this "deal" might just be that excuse, an excuse at the eleventh hour. It is interesting also that both Brazil and Turkey are currently serving in rotating positions on the Council and will have a vote on any sanctions regime.

Iran has successfully outmaneuvered the United States and the West for years. The West threatens sanctions, Iran enriches uranium. If the Chinese and Russians use this "deal" to withdraw their support for sanctions, the Iranians will have been successful once again.

Watch the Chinese and Russians.