The New Dance At Carnival: The Sanctions Side-Step

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with the round-up

Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy:

In a surprise agreement negotiated by Brazil, Iran agreed to ship much of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey. The deal is similar to one negotiated with Western countries last October, but could now complicate the Obama administration’s efforts to ratify international sanctions against Iran.

Under the new deal, negotiated at a three-way meeting including Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Iran would ship 2,640 pounds of low-enriched uranium to Turkey for storage. In exchange, after one year Iran would be eligible to receive 265 pounds of material enriched in France and Russia. An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said the country would continue to enrich uranium on its own, despite the new deal.

Under the similar deal negotiated last October, Iran would have shipped around two-thirds of its stockpile out of the country, leaving it with too little material to make a nuclear weapon. Since that time, Iran’s stockpile has grown significantly.

However, Iran’s apparent cooperation with the new agreement could make it less likely that Russia and China will support tougher sanctions against Iran in the U.N. security council and puts President Barack Obama in the awkward position of potentially rejecting a deal, nearly identical to one he negotiated months earlier.

Laura Rozen at Politico:

Two potential problems have emerged with the nuclear fuel swap deal that Iran agreed with Brazil and Turkey Sunday and announced today.

Under the agreement (available here),  Iran has essentially accepted the October 2009 fuel swap deal, agreeing to send 1200 kg of its low enriched uranium to Turkey within a month of the agreement being accepted by the U.S., Russia, France and the IAEA. In return, within a year, it would receive 120kg of highly enriched fuel for Iranian nuclear medical use, the agreement pledges.

One potential problem is that back in October, removing 1200 kg of Iran’s low enriched uranium from its then-stockpile of 1800 kg of LEU would have given a few months for negotiations to proceed without the pressure of Iran having an immediate breakout capacity.

Nine months later, Iran has accrued a bigger LEU stockpile now estimated at 2300 kg; removing 1200 kg therefore leaves Iran with 1100 kg, just enough for a breakout capacity. Since that stockpile is under IAEA safeguards, this may not be a deal breaker for most members of the international group known as the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany), since the deal would be seen as a potential confidence building measure that would be accompanied by a return to international nuclear negotiations.

What’s seemingly potentially more problematic is that since February, Iran has been higher enriching small quantities of low enriched uranium to 20% at a research facility at Natanz, allegedly for nuclear medical needs. It is currently producing about 1 KG of the 20% higher enriched uranium a month, the Federation of American Scientist’s Ivanka Barzashka said.

But scanning the text of the agreement, there’s no mention of Iran halting its 20% higher enrichment under the deal, even though the deal would make way for the international community to provide Iran with the higher enriched fuel it supposedly requires for nuclear medical purposes.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

David Albright, the former weapons inspector, writes that the widespread skepticism that has greeted the Brazilian-brokered deal is justified:

The news this morning that Iran had agreed in principle (the text of the agreement published by the Guardian notes that Iran will inform the IAEA of its official agreement to the deal within seven days) to send 1200 kg of its low enriched uranium (LEU) to Turkey has been greeted skeptically by the European Union, the United States, and others concerned that this declaration is merely an attempt to delay the imposition of U.N. Security Council sanctions.  The Security Council is debating these sanctions as a result of Iran’s continuing defiance of calls to halt its enrichment of uranium and accept adequate IAEA inspections.  Thus, while clarifications should be sought, this declaration provides no reason to stop negotiating in the Security Council the imposition of sanctions on Iran.

Spencer Ackerman at The Washington Independent:

Sure enough, as soon as I run with my previous post on the Iran enrichment offer, here’s White House spokesman Robert Gibbs’s official comment. It’s fairly noncommittal. It doesn’t rule out the prospect that the foreign-enrichment deal might be substantive, but Gibbs highlights the concern the previous post did: that Iran appears to reserve the right to continue to pursue enrichment to a threshold state for a weapon (and for the technical side of why that is, check out Arms Control Wonk). As well, Gibbs wants more demonstration of why the deal can begin to settle Iran’s nuclear account without a new round of sanctions, and reiterates the U.S.’s commitment to diplomacy (i.e., not war not war not war) when it comes to that account.

So, at first blush, nothing really ruled in or ruled out.

Emanuele Ottolenghi at Commentary:

So let me make a guess. The deal goes nowhere. It falls through. But for a good six to eight weeks, the Iranians are the good guys, the ball is in the West’s court, the sanctions’ effort in New York loses steam, Turkey and Brazil vote against any sanctions’ resolution, and Moscow urges France and the United States to consider the swap deal as a good bridging proposal to “build upon.”

That’s the beauty of the deal negotiated by Turkey and Brazil. It puts the West into a corner for two reasons: first, because it allows Iran to break its isolation — with Turkey and Brazil now having negotiated a deal independently of the U.S., the Security Council, the IAEA, or the P5+1, it’s the U.S. and the EU that look isolated.

And second, because now President Obama, President Sarkozy, and President Medvedev (or Prime Minister Putin, who knows?) — the original promoters of the transfer deal from last October — will have to say whether they are prepared to go the extra mile and do what Iran demands in exchange for transferring its uranium to Turkey — something they were not prepared to do back in October. My guess is that Russia will go one way, France and the U.S. the opposite way. So here’s the master stroke: in one fell swoop, Iran managed to create a rift inside the UN Security Council and the Vienna Group at the same time.

Give Iran credit then, as Jennifer and Jonathan note — it has just gained another few months.

FrumForum

UPDATE: Fred Kaplan at Slate

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1 Comment

Filed under Foreign Affairs, Middle East

One response to “The New Dance At Carnival: The Sanctions Side-Step

  1. Pingback: What We’ve Built This Weekend « Around The Sphere

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