Friday, May 21, 2010

Another sane article by Roger Cohen on Iran

Currently, there are very few writers in the US who understand the complexity of Iran and who can provide valuable and pragmatic solutions. Roger Cohen of the New York Times belongs to this very small group of sane writers. After there have been news that Turkey and Brazil had brokered a deal with Iran over the shipment of enriched uranium outside Iran (a deal similar to the one US proposed last year, and Iran later rejected it), the US is pressing ahead for tougher sanctions through the UN. This is unfortunate - as this could have provided an opportunity for breakthrough. But this is perhaps a good example of domestic politics in an election year affecting international relations. Last year Iran rejected the deal in its own turbulent election year, and now Obama is returning the favor.

Here is Cohen in today's NYT on the US reaction to the Turkish-Brazilian deal:
If all the mistrust needed further illustration, it has just been provided by the Brazilian-Turkish deal on Iran’s low enriched uranium (LEU), the peevish U.S. reaction to it, and the apparent determination of the Great Powers, led by the Obama administration, to burrow deeper into failure.

I believed Obama was ready to think anew on Iran. It seems not. Presidents must lead on major foreign policy initiatives, not be bullied by domestic political considerations, in this case incandescent Iran ire on the Hill in an election year.

And Turkey seems to be rightly upset about it:

Well, Turkey and Brazil have now restored the core elements of the October deal: a single shipment of the 1,200 kilograms of LEU to a location (Turkey) outside Iran and a one-year gap — essential for broader negotiations to begin — between this Iranian deposit in escrow and the import of the fuel rods.

And what’s the U.S. response? To pursue “strong sanctions” (if no longer “crippling”) against Iran at the United Nations; and insist now on a prior suspension of enrichment that was not in the October deal (indeed this was a core Obama departure from Bush doctrine).

Obama could instead have said: “Pressure works! Iran blinked on the eve of new U.N. sanctions. It’s come back to our offer. We need to be prudent, given past Iranian duplicity, but this is progress. Isolation serves Iranian hard-liners.”

No wonder Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, is angry. I believe him when he says Obama and U.S. officials encouraged Turkey earlier this year to revive the deal: “What they wanted us to do was give the confidence to Iran to do the swap. We have done our duty.”

Yes, Turkey has. I know, the 1,200 kilograms now represents a smaller proportion of Iran’s LEU than in October and it’s no longer clear that the fuel rods will come from the conversion of the LEU in escrow. But that’s small potatoes when you’re trying to build a tenuous bridge between “mendacious” Iranians and “bullying” Americans in the interests of global security.

The French and Chinese reactions — cautious support — made sense. The American made none, or did only in the light of the strong Congressional push for “crushing” sanctions. Further sanctions will not change Iran’s nuclear behavior; negotiations might. I can only hope the U.S. bristling was an opening gambit.

Last year, at the United Nations, Obama called for a new era of shared responsibilities. “Together we must build new coalitions that bridge old divides,” he declared. Turkey and Brazil responded — and got snubbed. Obama has just made his own enlightened words look empty.


Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Davutoglu is a very smart man, he wouldn't lack the foresight about the likely US rejection of the deal. It might be that the Turkish gov't, along with Brasilians are showing how serious they are about their opposition to the US policy on Iran. That's the angle I would have expected to see in there.

The general elections here will be within the next 15 months. As US-friendly as the present people in power are, they probably wouldn't be shy about pointing fingers across the Atlantic if the region heats up once again. The approval rating of the US here hasn't improved much after Obama and was in the teens when I last checked. I don't know if anybody in DC is worried about these things, but they should be. (I disagree with Cohen that the US lacks the power, trial balloons have already been flown about tactical nukes a few years ago w/o much backlash.)

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