Iran Nuclear Round-Up

Despite the deal between Turkey, Brasil and Iran, the UNSC is pushing further sanctions on Iran. What does this mean for the future?

There have been a lot of words written about the nuclear deal with Iran negotiated by Brazil and Turkey.  The deal is essentially the same as was brokered between the Persians and the Quartet (US, EU, Russia and the UN) last fall (Iran backed out).  Thus, the deal with Iran is an accomplishment.  Unfortunately (for the west), the 1,200 kg of low enriched uranium (LEU) that is to be sent to Turkey will leave the Iranians with enough LEU, if enriched to 90%, to acquire a nuclear weapon.  Just as problematic, the pact with Turkey and Brazil does not require Iran to stop enrichment in the future.  Indeed, Iran has already stated its intentions to continue enrichment despite the deal.  This has led the west to continue pushing for sanctions while the Security Council is perhaps more divided than ever.

The Reactions

The US was not particularly thrilled about the deal with Iran as it will most certainly delay the American push for sanctions.  The White House released a statement that underlined the failure of Iran to live up to past agreements and highlighted the fact that the deal does nothing to prevent Iran from continuing to push towards a nuclear weapon.  Similarly, EU and British officials expressed concern about the efficacy of the deal and stressed that Iran must do more to avoid further sanctions.  European officials, like the US, expressed concern that the deal did not prevent Iran from continuing towards a bomb.  China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council with a veto, reacted positively to the deal, stating that it prefers a negotiated diplomatic settlement to the issue.  Beijing did not give any indication, though, if the deal would prohibit or delay UN sanctions efforts.

The Press

[tweetmeme] Unsurprisingly, the western press has focused in on what the deal with Iran does not accomplish.  Although the deal effectively sets the Iran nuclear program back 6 months (undoubtedly a good thing), many in the west are highlighting the downfalls of the agreement, deeming Iran the victor of the battle.  Yesterday an editorial in the New York Times expressed relief that the UN is continuing to push for another round of sanctions despite the deal, saying “We respect those desires. But like pretty much everyone else, they got played by Tehran.”  Glenn Kessler in the Washington Post wrote that the deal has let Iran ‘create the illusion of progress in nuclear negotiations’ and that Iran appeared to have ‘scored a victory.’  An editorial in the Washington Post stated that the deal should be unacceptable to the US while saying that the Iranians ‘skillfully’ manipulated the eagerness of Turkey and Brazil to emerge as leaders on the world stage.  Outside of the US, the Globe and Mail highlighted how the deal could bring disagreements to the UNSC with regards to the proposed sanctions on Iran.

In other pieces, Trita Parsi describes the motivation of Turkey (security and trade issues with Iran) and Brazil (concern for its own nuclear rights).  Parsi also describes how President Obama will be forced by domestic pressure to continue along the hard path with Iran even if the deal meets the American security requirements.  Stephen Walt argues that the US should accept the deal in principle, but demand that the process is under strict supervision, noting that the US only can lose by rejecting or accepting the deal half-heartedly.  Furthermore, he points out that the only resolution to this impasse is through diplomacy (military action being foolish) and that sanctions will do little to change anyone’s mind.  Perhaps most importantly, Walt encourages the US to change the frame of the debate from trying to eliminate Iran’s capability to indigenously enrich uranium (something that is popular among even the Iranian opposition) to discouraging the regime from pursuing nuclear weapons.  Steven Kinzer, on the other hand, described the deal as evidence of the rise of Turkey and Brasil as a ‘third force’ that could challenge America’s grip on international diplomacy.

The Road to Sanctions

The fact that the agreement was made as the UNSC prepares to deliver a fresh round of sanctions on Iran forces the question of whether this deal is a real break through (the aforementioned concerns aside) or simply a ploy by Iran to delay the international sanctions.  It has already been announced that the push for a fourth round of sanctions will not be compromised by the deal.  China and Russia – the two veto-holding members of the Council that previously held major reservations – have agreed on a resolution encouraging sanctions that will be presented to the UNSC today.  The resolution is likely to pass with the support of Russia and China; Turkey and Brazil, non-permanent members who were responsible for the recent deal – are believed to follow China’s lead on the resolution.  The previous three rounds of sanctions passed easily with no members voting against the sanctions.

After the draft resolution was distributed to the UNSC, the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization said that the round of sanctions will fail and that those countries who support it will be discredited.

And What Tomorrow?

The likelihood of sanctions passing the UNSC immediately after the deal with Iran will certainly damage the already-strained relations between Iran and the international community.  Even if the deal was simply a ploy to delay the sanctions, Iran will argue that the west pushed sanctions despite concessions made by the Persians.  As mentioned above, the Turkey-Brasil-Iran deal has some serious holes for the future, but did significantly retard the ability to potentially produce a nuclear weapon.  Importantly, the deal, like the one proposed last fall by the US, was not meant as final end to negotiations, but simply as a trust-building measure intended to facilitate future negotiations.

If the aim of the deal was to increase trust and look towards future diplomacy, a quickly passed sanctions resolution by the US-led UNSC will most definitely diminish the capacity of the two sides to hammer out a final deal in the future.  Indeed, Iran will use the sanctions as proof of a complete lack of trust between the two sides, further increasing the likelihood that neither will make concessions in future efforts.  As Walt notes, the only way through the nuclear maze is through diplomacy; sanctions will not reform Tehran and military actions in the current global circumstances would have negative, and far-reaching, effects.  The efforts to immediately push for sanctions following the deal is a blow to further negotiation efforts and should have been delayed.

Even if Iran backs away from the deal it made with Brasil and Turkey, it would not have the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon anytime soon.  Furthermore, the sanctions would not have any immediate influence on Iran.  Thus, there would have been no harm in delaying (not permanently) the UN push for sanctions to allow the current goodwill with Iran to produce results.  If Iran backed out of the deal or refused to address the lingering concerns of the west, sanctions could always be brought back.  The immediate push for sanctions is simply a message of rejection that is not going to received warmly by Iran; indeed, it is a message that will severely harm later diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the Iranian impasse.

Photo from Payvand

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4 thoughts on “Iran Nuclear Round-Up

  1. I don’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons….but…..

    refused to address the lingering concerns of the west—? I suppose any concerns Iran has are not important…..

    sanctions—“What does this mean for the future?”—War ofcourse—Isn’t it the same pattern followed with Iraq?—WMD/Chemical weapons scare….etc?

    Does anyone find it strange that Iran—with only a potential of making nuclear weapons sometime in some future—is considered a monstrous threat, while a country who has nuclear weapons and the ability to annihilate the world, and has actually used the atom bomb on “enemy” civilians (under a sane President) is not? How exactly is a warmongering “west” saner or more pacifist?

    The world would be better off if ALL nations destroyed their nuclear arsenal.

    1. Anon, thanks for the links. The Kreiger quotation is quite telling. A couple of issues though.

      1) Despite the deal, Iran has not relieved suspicions. It still will not allow inspectors into the country, it has stated it is going to continue the type of high-enrichment that leads to bombs, and they will have more LEU after this deal than they had in October. It is not difficult to see how those opposed to a nuclear weapon in Iran are unconvinced by the deal. Iranian concerns are important too. The only military threat they face is from overzealous neo-cons in the US and Israel (which I suppose is a big threat). But these concerns go away with cooperation. They have domestic issues to work out, but those are separate from the nuclear issue. Iran certainly has the right to nuclear power, but if their goal is nuclear power (not bombs) why are they being so secretive?

      2) I don’t think that the war is inevitable here. In fact, I think most of the parties involved would try to avoid it at all costs. Israel seems like it would not mind a confrontation and some in the US think the same way. But all a military strike would do is harden the resolve of the Iranians to get a bomb. If you prove to them that there are threats, they are going to seek a way to balance against those threats. It is true that this is close to the history of Iraq, but it is also close to the history of Syria – no war there.

      3) America is for better or for worse the leader in global politics. Its entire stance on nuclear issues is based on hypocrisy and global elitism. Why are some countries allowed bomb and others prohibited? I agree, it is unfair, but unlikely to change. And you’re right, the world would be better if all nations were ‘nuclearless.’


  2. Sanctions on the U.S. anyone?……..

    “At the center of the nonproliferation regime is the 1970 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)…. this treaty is based upon an important tradeoff. The nonnuclear weapons states agree not to develop or acquire nuclear weapons, and the nuclear weapons states agree to engage in good faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament.

    Unfortunately, the nuclear weapons states, and particularly the United States, seem to have made virtually zero progress in the past five years. Despite its pledges to do otherwise, the United States has failed to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; opposed a verifiable fissile material cutoff treaty; substituted the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), which is fully reversible, for the START treaties; scrapped the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, opening the door for deployment of missile defenses and moves toward placing weapons in outer space; kept nuclear weapons at the center of its security policies, including research to create new nuclear weapons”
    —-David Kreiger. Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

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