US rejects Iran nuclear deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil and sets up new sanctions

The agreement of all five permanent members of the UN Security Council shows international powers see uranium-exchange deal as weak.
Susan Rice, left, and Vitaly Churkin, centre back, respectively the US and Russian ambassadors to the UN, arrive at the world body's headquarters in New York yesterday. Along with China, Britain and France, all five P5 members backed a US-drafted proposal detailing new sanctions against Iran. Stan Honda
Susan Rice, left, and Vitaly Churkin, centre back, respectively the US and Russian ambassadors to the UN, arrive at the world body's headquarters in New York yesterday. Along with China, Britain and France, all five P5 members backed a US-drafted proposal detailing new sanctions against Iran. Stan Honda
NEW YORK // When Brazilian and Turkish leaders announced they had brokered a deal to swap Iranian uranium stockpiles, it looked like a head-on collision between Tehran and Washington over a fourth round of sanctions had been averted.

But within hours, the United States had rebuffed the bargain as a sideshow and revealed that it had secured the crucial agreement of all permanent members of the UN Security Council and was pressing ahead with new curbs against Iran. In a show of international solidarity on Tuesday, envoys from the so-called P5 - the US, Russia, China, Britain and France - addressed reporters after a closed-door meeting in which a draft resolution had been presented to the council's 10 non-permanent members.

While many analysts were surprised that the Brazilian-Turkish deal had been dismissed so readily by the US and its allies, Robert Munks, the Americas Editor for Jane's Country Risk, said such a manoeuvre was on the cards from the beginning. "If you look at the actual Brazil and Turkey-brokered initiative ? it importantly allows for Iran to continue uranium-enrichment," he said. "The P5, including China, were signed up to the fact that this was not acceptable and the agreement had reached a point where it was impossible for any of them to crawl back from."

Iran signed a joint declaration with Turkey and Brazil, both non-permanent council members, on Monday to ship 1.2 tonnes of low-enriched uranium to Turkey for a later exchange of 120kg of enriched isotope for its medical nuclear reactor in Tehran. The deal was hailed as a breakthrough in long-stalled negotiations over Iran's nuclear programme, but it failed to dispel western fears that Tehran is covertly violating international agreements by seeking nuclear weapons technology.

While Brazilian and Turkish leaders proclaimed a diplomatic goal and declared sanctions unnecessary, the US rebuffed the emerging powers and circulated its draft resolution to all members of the Manhattan-based chamber the next day. Steven Cook, an analyst from the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, said: "The central thrust of US diplomacy has been that Iran is not trustworthy, that Iranian intentions regarding weaponisation are clear and the deal isn't as good as the Turks and the Brazilians were making it out to be.

"This is an 11th-hour trick that Iranians have repeatedly tried to relieve pressure and divide what could be a united Security Council. The Turks and the Brazilians were acting in good faith, but should have been somewhat more circumspect about Iran's willingness to make a deal, given the history." The 10-page sanctions text, agreed upon by all permanent council members after months of negotiation, targets Iranian banks and calls for inspection of vessels suspected of carrying cargo related to Iran's nuclear or missile programmes.

Western diplomats say the text represents a compromise between the US and its European allies, which had pushed for "crippling sanctions" against Tehran, and Russia and China, which sought to dilute curbs and avoid undermining Iran's flagging economy. Some analysts said Washington should not have dismissed the fuel swap deal so readily, and follow its self-proclaimed twin-track route of pursuing diplomatic solutions while threatening a new round of UN sanctions.

Jacqueline Shire, senior analyst at the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, said: "I think that the US, and others, assumes - clearly incorrectly - that the process would not work. The full story has not been told. I've read that Turkey and Brazil clearly believed they were keeping the US fully in the loop and negotiating on their behalf." Henry Precht, a former US State Department official with expertise on Iran, described Washington's response to the fuel swap deal as "irritated, blustering, threatening, captious and surly".

"Rather than seeking more futile sanctions, [US President Barack] Obama should have pushed the incipient engagement with Iran into other possibly helpful areas, starting with securing Iran's co-operation and support for stability in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. "Iran offered compromise. When is the last time the US did so in negotiations? Iran ventured that rarest of commodities in the Middle East: trust."

Others point to the similarity between this week's uranium swap deal and another exchange bargain with the US, France and Russia that was proposed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last year but ultimately rejected by Tehran. Since that deal fell through, Iran has amassed bigger stockpiles and would likely have enough material to produce a bomb even after sending 1.2 tonnes of low-enriched uranium to Turkey, said Meir Javedanfar, the director of the Middle East Economic and Political Analysis Company.

Although the US quickly signalled it would push ahead with sanctions despite the fuel swap deal, many experts questioned whether Russia and China - the P5 nations most reluctant to impose new curbs - would withdraw support for the American initiative. Mr Munks said such sanctions-doubters were already committed to a US plan and had "very little wiggle-room to back out". Mr Javedanfar said Russia and China are also fearful of Iran's nuclear ambitions and "did not want to be replaced as players" by diplomatic newcomers such as Brazil and Turkey.

Steven Simon, a Council on Foreign Relations analyst, said: "China didn't use the Brazilian and Turkish deal to scuttle sanctions because Beijing's interests are better served by a solution that minimally meets the US desire for action, while ensuring that Iran escapes truly crippling sanctions. China is in a position to strike this balance." Iran rejects western allegations that its nuclear programme is aimed at developing weapons, declaring that its atomic ambitions are limited to the peaceful generation of electricity and refusing to suspend uranium enrichment.

But Mr Javedanfar said this week's unfolding drama has shown how US President Barack Obama has galvanised global support against Iran's perceived nuclear threat, and that rising developing nations such as Brazil and Turkey "cannot match the P5" in diplomatic muscle. "The bigger message here is that Obama has got the world behind him," he said. "Obama has consensus, which is something that [his precursor George W] Bush never had. Obama reached out to the Iranians, and they didn't take his hand. Obama is showing that he is not a man to be messed with."

The draft resolution "calls upon states to take appropriate measures that prohibit" the opening of new Iranian bank branches or offices abroad if there is reason to suspect they might be aiding Iran's nuclear or missile programmes. It urges countries to be wary of dealing with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and says some members and companies it controls will be added to existing lists of individuals and firms facing asset freezes and travel bans.

The draft, which would represent a fourth round of UN sanctions against Tehran, calls for an expansion of an already existing arms embargo to include more types of heavy weapons. The text will likely be revised in the coming weeks ahead of a vote. Aside from Turkey and Brazil, another security council member, Lebanon, has made clear it would have trouble supporting sanctions against Iran. Lebanon, diplomats say, will probably abstain from a vote on the resolution because the Iranian-backed militant group Hizbollah is in its government.

@Email:jreinl@thenational.ae

Published: May 20, 2010 04:00 AM

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