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Iran, Turkey, Brazil, and The Bomb

Tehran gets closer to going nuclear.

3:00 PM, May 20, 2010 • By MICHAEL ANTON
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That the Iranians agreed to the deal indicates their comfort level in working with Brazil and Turkey—itself a worrisome sign—and their shrewdness in not missing an opportunity to divide NATO and strengthen ties with two important countries on the periphery of the West.  Another added benefit to saying yes was to put the Obama administration in a pickle—forced either to endorse a deal it has to know is bad or reject one that critics will say is identical to one it already proposed (even if, in key respects, it isn’t). So far, Washington has chosen the latter—leading liberal commentators to howl at the administration’s hypocrisy. For instance, Roger Cohen—a true believer in the potential of a “grand bargain” to transform Iranian-American relations—writing in the New York Times called the administration “peevish.” The Turks and the Brazilians naturally agree, and have said so. 

The timing also suggests that Tehran calculated that now is a good time to let some of the building international pressure for sanctions out of the valve. Throughout the spring, the Obama administration has been working to craft a new UN sanctions resolution that could pass muster with Russia and China. The contemplated terms, as ever, are weak tea and have little chance of convincing Tehran to change course. But apparently the prospect of further diplomatic isolation was worrisome enough to warrant this attempt to short-circuit even a limp resolution.

Will that attempt succeed? “My expectation is that after this declaration there will not be a need for sanctions,” Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan said. The Brazilians have said much the same. Yet surprisingly, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council had held firm. Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister went as far as to reject any link between the deal and the impending sanctions resolution. Chinese statements have been more cautious but Beijing is still indicating that it will support the resolution. 

But the UN Security Council has ten rotating members beyond the Perm Five—and right now Brazil and Turkey are two of those ten. Of the others, Lebanon is a sure bet to vote against, while Austria has indicated skepticism for the resolution and Japan has praised the uranium swap deal. Passage is therefore far from certain. 

Whether the measure passes or not, however, the damage has been done. Iran has done what it always does when confronted by the specter of international consensus—feint, make a deal, concede on the margins, buy time. In this instance that time has been bought very cheaply. Its value to Iran’s burgeoning nuclear program is nonetheless priceless.

Michael Anton is policy director of Keep America Safe.

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