Monday, April 19, 2010

The Nuclear Dance

Many reputations on the line with this week’s diplomacy surrounding the Iranian nuclear issue.

After a year of much talk about Mideast reconciliation but little publicly known substance to back it up, Turkey is now taking the next step.

First, in Washington Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu reiterated Turkey’s willingness to accept Iranian uranium even though it is not clear that such a move would be acceptable to Tehran. Next, Davutoglu visited Brazil to discuss Iranian nukes [Hurriyet, 4/18/10] and will take the results of that effort at a joint position to Tehran this week.

Tehran’s reaction will offer transparency into Tehran’s true motivations (either to solve the crisis or to promote its apparent Israeli-style policy of nuclear ambiguity). Steve Clemmons has an interesting write-up on The Washington Note [4/15/10] about Davutoglu’s justification for Turkish opposition to sanctions against Iran, including a revealing remark about how U.S. sanctions against Saddam harmed Turkey from which U.S. decision makers should learn a lesson about downstream impact of heavy-handed U.S. policies.

Davutoglu, who visits Tehran regularly, told reporters in Washington last week that there has been a “change of approach” in Tehran recently resulting in acceptance “in principle” of a deal that would remove most of its enriched uranium from Iran [Zaman 4/19/10]. This would appear to meet the public terms set by Washington, but the longer the dispute lasts, the more Iran’s nuclear infrastructure advances and therefore the less technical significance the specific issue of medical-grade uranium has. It seems increasingly apparent that the real stumbling block lies over the political question of whether or not the two sides wish to achieve progress. At the moment, Tehran appears to find progress on the specific issue useful, while Washington does not. State Department spokesman Crowley dismissively remarked, “when you, you know, look behind the curtain, there's really nothing there,” a statement that appears to go out of its way to cast Iran in a negative light. Indeed, Crowley made it clear that Washington’s goal was not the specific issue of a trade of types of refined uranium but the broader issue of curbing Iran’s overall nuclear program.

Tehran’s Chance on Sanctions
Given the global sensitivity of sanctions imposed by the rich on the poor, Tehran now has a golden opportunity to undermine Washington’s campaign by being forthcoming with Turkey and Brazil. Its failure to do so will greatly strengthen Washington’s position, putting particular pressure on China and Turkey to accept strengthened sanctions, and will embolden Westerners looking for a military solution.

Washington Reaction Will Offer Transparency into Washington’s Goals
If Turkey and Brazil manage to get Tehran on board and Obama reacts, this would constitute evidence for the hypothesis that he is looking for a compromise solution to the nuclear issue. On the other hand, if he rejects their move, it will lend credence to the hypothesis that the nuclear debate is primarily a cover for a U.S. effort to subordinate Iran to U.S.-Israeli hegemony over the Mideast. JCS Chairman Mullen's recent equating of an attack on Iran with an Iranian development of nuclear weapons as equally destabilizing suggests strong opposition to war but does not speak to the hypothesis that Washington may truly be maneuvering to leave Iran marginalized and alienated rather than an integrated member of the international community but still independent and possessing rising influence.

Turkish Credibility
Meanwhile, as we await the details of the Turkish-Brazilian proposal that is evidently being formed, Erdogan’s credibility as the leader of a new Mideast moderate movement is very much on the line. He has clearly articulated his position; it remains to be seen if he can put deliver.

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