Iranian member of parliament Mohammad Reza Bahonar warned Thursday that “If (the West) issues a new resolution against Iran, we will not be committed to Tehran’s statement and dispatching fuel outside Iran will be canceled.”
Turkey and Brazil, with full backing from Washington DC and in close cooperation with the Obama administration, had apparently succeeded by Monday morning in negotiating a deal whereby Iran would send over half of its low enriched uranium to Turkey, which would then send it on to (presumably) France and Russia for enrichment to 19.75 percent for use in Iran’s medical reactor for the production of medical isotopes. The deal was nearly identical to the one sought last October in Geneva by the Obama administration. Iran had agreed to something like this arrangement, but then reneged.
In the meantime, the Obama administration determined to seek a further round of United Nations Security Council sanctions on Iran. Even as Brazil and Turkey were working overtime to get an agreement from Tehran, Washington had finally persuaded Russia and China to accept a new round of relatively weak sanctions. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton more or less rejected the Turkey-Brazil deal as soon as it was announced, in favor of increased sanctions.
Veteran Iran observer Gary Sick predicted this course, calling it “moving the goalposts”– an email observation. Yesterday Roger Cohen wrote an op-ed for NYT to the same effect. Obama would no longer take ‘yes’ for an answer.
One sticking point was that Iran did not offer, in the deal struck with Turkey and Brazil, to cease enriching uranium. But this goal is the primary one of the Obama administration and Gareth Porter argues that even last October’s negotiations were viewed in Washington as a step toward ending the enrichment program. (The Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty gives Iran the right to enrich for peaceful nuclear reactors to generate electricity, but the US and the Security Council have attempted to amend the NPT ex post facto).
Brazil’s foreign minister said, according to the USG Open Source Center translation of an article in the Portuguese Agencia Brasil for Thursday, May 20, 2010:
‘According to the minister of foreign affairs, who spoke with reporters at Itamaraty in Brasilia today, no one will be able to ignore the agreement signed in Tehran. “. . . I feel that ignoring that agreement would reflect an attitude of disdain for a peaceful solution. I don’t believe it is possible to do that.”
Amorim said that before traveling to Tehran with Lula, he had already learned that permanent members of the UN Security Council were drafting a resolution proposing new sanctions against Iran but that they would await the results of Lula’s trip. According to Amorim, there has not yet been time to analyze the document. “If you have a result and the next day someone presents a resolution proposing sanctions, the wait was in fact purely formal.”
The minister said the announcement that Iran would continue its uranium enrichment program even after the agreement was signed with Brazil and Turkey was a matter to be dealt with in a second phase.
“We were not intending to solve all the problems at once. That requires a conversation not with Brazil but with the permanent members of the UN Security Council, and I am optimistic about its results. We put the ball in the goal area, but the goal will have to be scored by the permanent members of the council and the representatives of the IAEA.”
Amorim emphasized that continuing the uranium enrichment program was not part of the negotiations leading to the agreement signed yesterday. “I am trusting in people’s common sense and feel that we have helped give a peaceful negotiation a chance. It was not we who invented the agreement. It had already been proposed by the UN Security Council and the IAEA.”
Amorim is likely to be disappointed by all sides, and in my view the reason lies in part in domestic US politics.
There are four domestic political forces affecting Iran policy. The War Hawks, including the more hard line of the Israel lobbies, would like to see the US back on the war footing with Iran characteristic of the late Bush administration. The pragmatic hawks such as US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, aware of how ruinous entering a third war would be for the US at this point, would at least like to see the imposition of robust sanctions. The Realists, exemplified by Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, would like to see engagement and negotiation with the regime in Tehran, even at the cost of ignoring the Islamic Republic’s crackdown on the Green Movement and massive human rights violations. The Democratic left and the National Iranian American Council (the most effective Iranian-American advocacy group) would like to see a rapprochement with Iran, but urge continued pressure by the West on the regime to open up and to cease its authoritarian measures.
The Obama administration came into office talking like the Realists, and the Realists, most Iranian-Americans and the left wing of the Democratic Party would have liked to see him take the Brazil-Turkey deal. But through congressional pressure and that of the Israel lobbies, the pro-sanctions faction has come out on top. Adopting the position of the pragmatic hawks and seeking tighter sanctions has the advantage that it blunts the arguments of the War Hawks. It is a better platform for Democrats to run on in the November midterms than open, direct negotiations with Iran. Ironically, Obama has allowed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and SecDef Gates to continue to build up Iran as a supposedly major security challenge to the US, making it harder for him to follow through on his original plan of direct negotiations with Tehran. (How unlikely a candidate Iran is to play major foe of the United States is clear if you look, as Stephen Walt has, at the basic economic and military realities; Iran is poor and weak.
Unhelpful linkage with other Middle East policy may be in play, as well. The slight increase of sanctions may be intended to mollify Israel and forestall a disastrous military strike by that country on the Iranian nuclear facilities at Natanz near Isfahan. Promising stricter sanctions may also be important to the US negotiations with the Likud-led government of Israel over a two-state solution with the Palestinians. That is, horsetrading over Israel-Palestinian issues may be driving Iran policy in the White House.
Those pragmatic hawks eager for stronger sanctions seem to envisage restrictions on Iran’s finance sector in its interfacing with the rest of the world.
Likewise, they wish to forestall further Russian arms deals with Tehran. Vedomosti Online reported on Thursday, May 20, 2010 (according to the translation of the USG Open Source Center):
‘Konstantin Makiyenko, expert of the Center for Analysis of Strategy and Technology, says that the adoption of this resolution would terminate the military-technical cooperation of Russia and Iran, except, probably, merely for deliveries of transport helicopters, and would directly affect deliveries to Iran of S-300 missile systems. . . The first contract for the delivery of Tor M-1 air-defense missile systems was signed in 2006, and for deliveries of the S-300, in 2007, but the contract has still not been executed. Russia is citing technical problems.’
In contrast, Aleksey Arbatov of the Russian Academy of Sciences World Economy and International Relations Institute said, “The delivery of the S-300 never was planned since it would have provoked an Israeli military attack on Iran, now Israel is taking a time-out to asses the effectiveness of the new sanctions, and in the event of noncompliance with them, could strike in the fall or spring. . .” He added that Iran’s lack of the S-300 minimizes the number of casualties on the attacking side . . .”
Nevertheless, Arbatov thinks the West is flailing around on the sanctions issue and is unlikely to be effective: “The sanctions are being imposed as a conscience salve, they will have no effect, like the previous ones . . .’
Obama mysteriously has ceased leading on the Iran issue and is instead showing himself willing to be led. Thus have the pragmatic hawks (with the war hawks waiting in the wings) defeated the Realists and the liberal internationalists. Obama stabbed Turkey and Brazil in the back after asking them to risk their face for him. Obama is giving Iran the impression that he is indecisive. All of this backtracking for the sake of a sanctions regime that is highly unlikely actually to change Iran’s behavior, contrary to the express hopes of Secretary Gates. Obama’s current Iran policy cannot be explained in the terms of US-Iranian relations. It must be driven by something else. The Israel lobbies and dealings with the Netanyahu government are the likeliest candidates in explaining the abandonment of a Realist approach.