An unexpected rupture has surfaced between Washington and Ankara, only one day after Turkey signed a uranium agreement with Tehran. This is an inconsistency that should not exist between two NATO allies. It is hard to tell which party is the main cause for the lack of communication. The Turks believe that the negotiations with Iran are effectively coordinated with Washington. However, the Obama administration insists on sanctions against Iran, without taking into consideration Turkey and Brazil’s diplomatic success.
Twenty-four hours after the Tehran declaration, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announces to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that an agreement with China and Russia with regards to a sanctions package has been reached. As if the aim is to ridicule Turkey and Brazil, Clinton states, “[A]lthough we acknowledge the sincere efforts of both Turkey and Brazil to find a solution regarding Iran’s standoff with the international community over its nuclear program, the P-5+1 … are proceeding to rally the international community on behalf of a strong sanctions resolution that will, in our view, send an unmistakable message about what is expected from Iran.”
Well, why are we stuck in this impasse? Why are Washington and Ankara so disconnected? The answer lies in the distrust that Washington feels toward Iran. Washington was well aware of Turkey’s uranium trade efforts. They were even unwillingly supportive of the attempt.
On the other hand, however, Washington is uneasy about the fact that whenever Iran is backed against the wall, it buys itself time by suddenly appearing to be cooperative. Yet, Iran has a tendency to initially appease and then change its mind. Past experience confirms the current situation. Nonetheless, Iran is not agreeing with the uranium trade proposal for the first time.
In October 2009, Tehran agreed to hand over to France and Russia 1200 kilograms of uranium to be used for medical purposes by converting it into nuclear enrichment pipes. When the international society started to take a deep breath, Tehran sinisterly began breaking its promise. As a result, Iran has continued its uranium enrichment activities since late 2009.
At the time, 1200 kilograms represented approximately three-quarters of Iran’s uranium supply. Today, this amounts to a much smaller percentage. Furthermore, last year’s original agreement demanded that the Iranian uranium be turned into enrichment pipes. Therefore, the proposed deal would prohibit Iran from buying back the uranium to be used in nuclear weapon production.
There is another very important aspect, besides the above technical details. Per demands by Washington, Iran is expected to stop its uranium enrichment efforts immediately. However, in its agreement with Turkey and Brazil, Iran does not agree to such a commitment.
Washington Is Astonished by Turkey
Under these circumstances, one should not be surprised about Washington’s lack of trust toward Iran. Washington’s biggest astonishment is with Ankara’s quickness in opening the credit lines for Tehran. The U.S. officials I met in Washington are amazed by Turkey’s level of trust in Iran, despite being a very experienced country in these matters. Some officials even argue that Ankara’s diplomatic effort opens the negotiation doors for Russia and China, while providing them with a stronger hand in lighter sanctions. The clearest example would be the exemption of Russia’s missile defense systems (such as S-300) from the Iranian sanction package.
So, how is Ankara supposed to act under the given circumstances? I believe that Prime Minister Erdogan should reiterate through open letters to world leaders that the agreement reached with Iran is only a starting point. Ankara must demand Obama’s support in calling for an international summit for gradual disarmament in the Middle East.
These parallel diplomatic efforts are crucial. Otherwise, Turkey will be considered a naïve country that believes everything that Iran says.