A Self-Inflicted Wound: Obama’s Vacillation on Iran

Ray Walser /

The sham agreement signed on May 17 by Iran with Brazil and Turkey to swap low enriched uranium for fuel for the Tehran research reactor has been widely exposed as little more than Iranian effort to divide and confuse the international community and buy time for the construction of a nuclear weapon.

Iran, aided and abetted by the leaders of Brazil and Turkey, structured the deal to give the illusion of diplomatic progress without addressing the core issue involved in Iran’s nuclear defiance: Iran continues to enrich uranium in flagrant violation of five U.N. Security Council resolutions and three rounds of sanctions.

The IAEA has stated that Iran currently has enough low enriched uranium to build two nuclear bombs if it is further enriched, a point admitted by Brazil’s Foreign Minister. Likewise, Iran continues to stonewall inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Both Brazil and Turkey, however, claim they were encouraged to conclude the arrangement with White House backing.  To prove its case, the Brazilian government took the unusual step of releasing a private presidential letter sent by Obama to Brazil’s President Lula da Silva on April 20, 2010.   The ambiguous letter appears to give a green light for Brazil and Turkey to conclude a nuclear fuels agreement with Iran.

Wrote Obama:

Not withstanding Iran’s continuing defiance of the United Nations Security Council resolutions mandating that it cease its enrichment of uranium, we were prepared to support and facilitate action on a proposal that would provide Iran nuclear fuel using uranium enriched by Iran — a demonstration of our willingness to be creative in pursuing a way to build mutual confidence.

Obama suggested steps Brazil could take to advance an agreement:

There is a potentially important compromise that has already been offered. Last November, the IAEA conveyed to Iran our offer to allow Iran to ship its 1,200 kg of LEU to a third country — specifically Turkey·- at the outset of the process to be held “in escrow” as a guarantee during the fuel production process that Iran would get back its uranium if we failed to deliver the fuel…. I believe that this raises real questions about Iran’s nuclear intentions, if Iran is unwilling to accept an offer to demonstrate that its LEU is for peaceful, civilian purposes. I would urge Brazil to impress upon Iran the opportunity presented by this offer to “escrow” its uranium in Turkey while the nuclear fuel is being produced.

While the Obama letter contains caveats and warnings, these warnings are offset by a generally positive tone of diplomatic flexibility.

The White House’s failure to clearly outline U.S. positions or forcefully articulate its deep misgivings regarding the proposed nuclear deal has helped Tehran to muddy the diplomatic waters, undermine support for another round of sanctions at the U.N. Security Council, and further damage U.S. credibility with Brazil and Turkey, two key players currently serving on the U.N. Security Council.

Co-authored by James Phillips.