The West should be aware of the new alliance: Iran, Turkey and Brazil signed a joint declaration on May 17 to endorse a fuel swap whereby Iran will ship 1200 of its low enriched uranium to Turkey in exchange for the 20 percent uranium fuel needed for its Tehran's research reactor. Iran, in late 2009, had rejected an identical agreement proposed by the Vienna Group (the 5+1).
According to Iranian sources, it appears that Teheran is willing to transfer 1,200 kg of 3.5%-enriched uranium that by now exceeds 2,000 kg. to Turkey for safekeeping, to receive in return 120 kg of 20%-enriched uranium that it needs for its Tehran research reactor. The low-grade uranium, under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), will be sent to Russia to be enriched up to 20%, and then to France to be turned into nuclear fuel that will then be transferred back to Iran within a year. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan clarified that if Ankara saw that Tehran was not receiving the 20%-enriched uranium, it would return to Iran its entire stock of 1,200 kg of uranium.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad immediately called on the 5+1 to return to the negotiating table; at the same time, his spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, announced that the agreement did not prevent Iran from continuing its ongoing uranium enriching activities.
Iran is already under three sets of UN sanctions for refusing to halt its uranium enrichment, which the West suspects is part of a covert nuclear weapons program. Tehran denies the claim and maintains that its nuclear program is for peaceful civilian use only.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that, in light of this deal, there was "no need" for further UN sanctions against Iran. "This agreement," he stated, "should be regarded positively and there is no need for sanctions now that we (Turkey and Brazil) have made guarantees and the low enriched uranium will remain in Turkey."
The agreement was received in the West with scepticism. The office of the EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton in Brussels said the deal "does not answer all of the concerns;" and Germany underlined that no agreement could replace the draft inked between Iran and the IAEA last October. Israeli officials also declared that they would be studying the details of the agreement, but they anticipated that, in their view, this agreement is just for the show.
The agreement will not ease up the Iranian nuclear imbroglio; rather, it will complicate matters: although it is the photocopy of what the West wanted to impose in the framework of the Vienna talks, it was agreed to outside the IAEA context, and therefore it does nothing to help build up an atmosphere of trust so badly needed to improve the relations between Iran and the West.
On the contrary, it serves the purposes of the Iranian regime, who can now present the agreement as the practical implementation of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's declared intent to create a new world order in which the Tehran regime will not only have a leading role in running the world, but will also represent a political, cultural, and moral alternative to the decadence of the West.
With the involvement of Turkey, a regional power and a NATO member; and Brazil, a major emerging world power and U.N. Security Council member; Iran has moved its initiative beyond the Iranian nuclear sphere, taking the first step in building a political trans-regional global front that Iran can present as an alternative to the West's hegemony.
For Turkey, the deal represents a major achievement in its effort to gain its credentials as a regional mediator and diplomatic heavyweight. It also shows that the new Islamic course set by the Erdogan government makes Turkey more authoritative, independent and relevant on the international arena. The agreementm however, could end up driving a wedge between Ankara's relations with Washington and some of its European allies.
As far as Brazil is concerned, economics might be the correct way to interpret its support of Iran. Trade between the two countries quadrupled between 2002 and 2007 to around $1.8 billion, and continues to grow. The possibility of cooperation in science, industry, technology and culture was strengthened by an exchange of foreign ministers in November 2008. It may not be a coincidence that Iran was one of Brazil's most prominent supporters of its inclusion in OPEC.
Brazil's state-controlled oil company, Petrobras, began exploration in the Iranian waters of the Persian Gulf in 2003, and the Caspian Sea in 2004. Brazil is looking for markets, and evidently sees a rising Iran as inevitable. Still, president Lula might consider the consequences of finding himself in the company of such enemies of the US as Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and Bolivia's Evo Morales.
At a time when the Ayatollahs' regime is showing its worst face to the world by crushing internal opposition, eliminating civil liberties and threatening to become a nuclear power, Turkey's and Brazil's interventions -- by giving Iran legitimacy to operate outside the boudaries set by the IAEA -- might seem to be ill-timed and short-sighted. Their mediation seems to constitute a political alliance that goes beyond the nuclear issue: instead of bringing Tehran closer to a settlement of its nuclear dispute, they have merely provided fodder for further Iranian stalling.