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Strangling The Night Watchman: Iran, Turkey And Brazil Nuclear Deal


31 May 2010

By Sami Moubayed

An old Arabic proverb says, "Do you want the grapes, or just to fight the night watchman?" Clearly from its reactions to the dramatic breakthrough on the Iranian nuclear file, the U.S. is more interested in fighting the night watchman than wrestling grapes out of Iran.

Shortly after Iran, Turkey and Brazil announced their high-profile deal last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (including Russia and China), and Germany, have all agreed on a fourth set of sanctions against Tehran, throwing dust in the eyes of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had hammered out the agreement with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The agreement calls for swapping with effect from next June, 1,200kg of low-enriched uranium with Turkey for higher-enriched nuclear fuel for a medical research reactor in Iran.

Immediately, the Iranians fired back furiously through Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, threatening to call off the agreement altogether if further sanctions were imposed by the UN. The Iran-Turkey-Brazil agreement, however, is very significant. First, it is testimony to the rising influence of emerging nations like Brazil and regional heavyweights like Turkey, and to the waning clout of the United States, given that the deal was debated, reached and announced in complete independence from the U.S. In fact, it was the Russians who were consulted at various stages, during President Dmitri Medvedev's recent visit to Turkey, after having visited Brazil last April, followed by Lula da Silva's stopover in Moscow en route to Tehran.

Medical purposes

The agreement, reached after 18 hours of negotiations, is not new, having been raised in a slightly different form in October 2009. Back then, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) called on Iran to hand over 2,640 pounds (1,196kg) of low-enriched uranium and receive from abroad 260 pounds of uranium enriched up to 20 per cent for use in the Tehran Research Reactor for medical purposes. What is new is that the Iranian fuel will be shipped to Turkey rather than Russia.

The Iranians claim that regardless of the swap agreement, they have a natural right to continue enriching to the 20 per cent level. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called the new agreement one of the most important diplomatic decisions taken by Tehran since 1979, while his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov told Clinton that although his country remained committed to a serious approach against Iran in principle the new agreement forced everybody to take a step back and have a long look at the situation.

The Americans, however, are clearly unimpressed. First, they were not consulted on the recent deal. Second, they are furious with their Latin American neighbour for stepping into a territory that historically has been handled solely by the U.S. Third, success of the deal exposes U.S. failure in the Iranian nuclear file success by third parties in a domain where the US has reaped nothing but failure. Fourth, it embarrasses U.S. President Barack Obama, who went to great lengths to appease the Russians to secure their support for new sanctions against Iran, hoping that this would shake the Iranian government and deprive it of the support of an international heavyweight like Russia.

Arms embargo

The new set of proposed sanctions would include an arms embargo on eight categories of conventional weapons, including tanks and combat aircraft, ban on overseas activities like uranium mining, and subject ships and planes heading out of Iran to international inspections, based on suspicion of carrying illegal material. Ironically, Saturday marked the 31st anniversary of the US economic siege on Iran, imposed by then-president Jimmy Carter who froze around $12 billion (Dh44 billion) worth of Iranian assets abroad, three months after the Islamic Revolution.

Unlike every U.S. president, from Carter to Obama, Russia, Turkey and Brazil prefer to wrestle the grapes out of Iran rather than fight the night watchman. According to the International Monetary Fund, Iran is the 16th largest economy in the world, and has consistently been enjoying healthy growth rates and trade balances, and in turn, a low national debt. For 10 years its unemployment rate has stood at approximately 12 per cent, not bad for a country with one of the youngest populations in the world. Petrochemical exports have grown 15-fold since 2000, while steel and car manufacturing are strongest in the entire Arabian Gulf, in addition to the fact that Tehran is the only capital in the entire region to have mastered nanotechnology, nuclear technology and space exploration.

Such a country, they claim, should not be marginalised by sanctions under the watchful eye of the international community. This is the axis that is emerging a coalition of small and large states that collectively takes the wind out of U.S. sails. For them to continue to be taken seriously, however, to prove they are strong and able they need to make sure that the first mega-achievement of their alliance, the swap deal, sees the light of day.

-- Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria.

 

 

  EsinIslam.Com

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