Evolving Iranian Entanglements – Turkey, Brazil and Iran Sign Nuclear Swap Deal

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Context

Credibility of the UN Security Council at Stake

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev paid a visit to the Middle East last week, as reported on previously by PoliTact, but could there have been more on the table with Turkey than just business and energy? After Medvedev left the region, Turkey and Brazil signed a nuclear swap deal with Iran, in a bid to stave off the looming fourth round of UN sanctions with diplomatic measures. Despite the promising negotiations between the emerging powers and Iran, the US has pushed ahead with its bid for sanctions, drafting a resolution with the so-called ‘Iran-Six’: the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany.

While Russia and China are less-than-enthusiastic about the sanctions, they are tacitly towing the line, while waiting for the US to barge on into a hole of its own making. India is perhaps wizening up to the damage it has done in previous years to its relationship with Iran, while Pakistan is once again under blueprints for a number of possible pipelines from Iran to China, and even through to India.

In this Analysis of Perception and Perspective we study how this development has been viewed in different parts of the world and how it has eroded the credibility of the UN Security Council while also providing hints towards the emerging balance of power.

Analysis

Brazil, Turkey and Iran signed a landmark agreement on Monday, for Iran to ship half of its low-enriched nuclear material to Turkey for a swap of higher-enriched nuclear fuel for use in a medical reactor. The deal goes a long way to brokering a new trust between Iran and the international community, but one which may be short-lived given that the US has largely brushed off the deal, and pushed ahead with sanctions anyhow.

The two non-permanent members of the Security Council, Brazil and Turkey are emerging powers in their own right, and have succeeded diplomatically where major world-powers have failed, or not even honestly tried. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called upon the ‘Iran-six’ to enter into talks with Iran, based on “honesty, justice and mutual respect,” in tacit praise of the Brazilian and Turkish efforts, and an unspoken sentiment that previous attempt at diplomacy had been lacking in these three qualities.

There are questions as to whether Russia played a part in encouraging the deal, given that the Russian President was so recently in Turkey, the Iranian situation must certainly have come up for discussion. Russia stands to gain either way with Iran, because if the sanctions go through, the European energy market remains Russian-dominated, and if the Turkey-Brazil deal proves successful, and the US is red-faced, then Russia gains credence simply from the fall in its old rival’s standing.

China is also a somewhat quiet player in the game, with the Chinese ambassador at the UN, Li Badong commenting after Hilary Clinton announced the draft resolution for a fourth round of sanction that this “did not close the doors on diplomacy”, placing emphasis on employing “dialogue, diplomacy and negotiations” over exerting political muscle.

Some have speculated whether China and Russia are towing the line simply to watch the US blunder on into a political quagmire over the Iran sanctions, and it appears to be working, given the conflicting sentiments coming out of Washington with regards to Iran. The US may be working largely to its own discredit, with prominent media outlets framing the diplomatic solution between Iran, Brazil and Turkey as “complicating sanctions talks” (the Times) and creating the “illusion of progress in nuclear negotiations” (the Washington Post). Calling a practical, workable and moderate deal brokered between sovereign nations an ‘illusion’ may well come back to bite those in the US who hold this line, especially since there is growing disgruntlement in many countries over the perceived ‘we lead, you follow’ practices of the US. The fact that there are five nuclear armed members of the Security Council sanctioning a sovereign nation for developing nuclear reactors has not escaped the notice of many, nor has it escaped comparison with the fictitious WMD hunt that spawned the Iraq invasion. This situation is at best ironic, at worst the ‘Archduke Ferdinand’ of modern politics.

With Iran showing all signs of willingness to negotiate, at least giving the this impression, the US’s perseverance with sanctions appears more like it has nothing to do with nuclear proliferation, and everything to do with making a new monster in the Middle East.

Meanwhile in the Af-Pak region, India seems to have awoken to the fact that it’s blind following of US sentiment on Iran has done considerable damage to its relationship with the energy-rich country. Turkey and Brazil’s unilateral stance regarding Iran has shown India that emerging powers can successfully play a part in the world stage, and do so in opposition to the US line, without actually damaging their own relations with the US. Perhaps this is why the Indian government has sent two ministers to Tehran this year, the latest just this week as External Affairs Minister SM Krishna pays a visit to Iran.

Negotiation on the long-disputed trans-Pakistan pipelines from Iran to India may again be on the table, even just as a way for India to make overtures of renewed friendship with Iran. Pakistan is of course even less able to guarantee the safe delivery of oil or gas across its borders than in previous years, and with trilateral negotiations not an option, the actual construction of a pipeline seems a distance possibility, and more a front to open discussions between countries. The Chinese have a better chance of seeing their proposed pipeline from Iran through Pakistan and into Xinjiang province coming to fruition, but the worsening internal situation in Pakistan is likely to halt even this development.

While the Iranian sanctions are not likely to reach approval in the Security Council–especially given that Turkey and Brazil are current non-permanent members, and have worked so hard to establish an alternative solution–the interesting development to come out of the Iranian happenings this week is that emerging powers are proving that they can accomplish much in the way of diplomacy on their own feet. And they seem to be better at it than the heavy-handed US.

The US stands in a precarious position, especially if its push for the implementation of sanctions derails in any way the agreement made between Turkey, Brazil and Iran-they are on the balance of perception between being the harbinger of diplomacy, or the destroyer of it.

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