Brazil and Turkey: Mediators for what?

The irony of the new Iran uranium deal.

A major problem with the 10-point deal reached among Brazil, Turkey and Iran on an exchange of enriched uranium is that the context within which it was concluded has little to do with nuclear nonproliferation and the international community’s interest to halt Iran’s advance toward a military nuclear capability.

The deal has everything to do with economics and political posturing. Rather than serving as a mediator between the West and Iran on the nuclear issue – the stated goal of Brazil and Turkey in their efforts – the resulting document suggests that the two states have acted more as Iran’s representatives in resisting pressure from the P5+1 (the permanent Security Council members and Germany).

The basic motivation for the deal was to take the wind out of an impending P5+1 decision on a fourth round of UN sanctions against Iran for its ongoing unwillingness to engage on the nuclear issue. This was the primary common interest that linked the three states; Brazil and Turkey both have economic ties with Iran that they would like to maintain and enhance. The three are also in strong agreement that Iran’s right to enrich uranium should be spelled out and accepted. Turkey and Brazil have consistently advocated that Iran has every right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, ignoring Iran’s record of deception and noncompliance that has led already to three UN Security Council decisions on sanctions.

The only provision in the deal itself that is reminiscent of the original P5+1 offer from October is the amount of low-enriched uranium to be transferred out of Iran: 1,200 kg. Cardinal questions surrounding the deal – such as what happens to the 20-percent enrichment activities that Iran began in February – are not raised in the document. But when heading a 300-strong business delegation to Teheran in order to advance political and economic ties between Brazil and Iran, why would we imagine that these details would trouble Brazil’s president?

And for Turkey, its paramount concern seems to have been its ability to demonstrate success in bringing to conclusion its efforts to mediate anything in the region. Being able to announce this achievement – and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan postponed his arrival in Teheran until he got word from his foreign minister that the Iranians were going to sign – while likely deferring a decision on sanctions, were all that was deemed necessary.

While Iran is certainly happy with the political embrace from Turkey and Brazil, and obviously interested in enhancing its economic ties with the two states, it wanted something more. Iran wanted its enrichment rights to be clarified. And thus we find the most troubling aspect of the deal, which is stated clearly and explicitly in the opening sentences: "We reaffirm our commitment to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and in accordance with the related articles of the NPT, recall the right of all State Parties, including the Islamic Republic of Iran, to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy (as well as nuclear fuel cycle including enrichment activities) for peaceful purposes without discrimination."

The fact is, however, that five Security Council resolutions demanding that Iran cease uranium enrichment activities because of its noncompliance overrule Iran’s "rights" according to the NPT.

Despite its rhetoric, Iran obviously knows this to be true, and therefore was careful to include this opening statement, which in effect means that the entire deal hinges on an explicit acceptance of its right to continue enriching uranium.

How ironic that this deal with Iran was being concluded at the exact time that the NPT Review Conference was ongoing in New York, where Iran’s nuclear activities are the major challenge to the continued health of the treaty. The contrast between the stated goals of that conference and the conditions surrounding the Brazil-Turkey-Iran deal couldn’t be more blatant.

The writer is director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Project at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), Tel Aviv University.

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