The Iranian Dilemma

By George S. Hishmeh – Washington, D.C.

The ‘diplomatic coup’ – as Iran’s success in winning over the sponsorship of Turkey and Brazil, two upcoming international players, of its new nuclear offer to the UN nuclear watchdog – has to date seemingly rankled the big powers and may have even split the western community on this subject.

Most importantly, the reaction of the Big 5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) appears to have punctured President Barack Obama’s historic declaration to the Muslim world in Cairo nearly a year ago, in which he pledged a radical change in U.S. foreign policy when he promised an appreciative audience that “while America in the past has focused on oil and gas when it comes to this part of the world, we now seek a broader engagement.”

The Iranian offer to swap some of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) for fuel to run an Iranian medical research reactor, was endorsed earlier this month by Turkey and Brazil, whose two heads of state were in Tehran for the tumultuous announcement. Even if the Iranian offer did not exceed the one they turned down last October, the Iranian government must not be dealt a new set of  sanctions, a step that would only contribute to an escalation of tensions in the region. Rather, this is a golden opportunity to engage the boisterous regime of Ahmadinejad.

It is generally conceded that the UN Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has had many loopholes. By all accounts, the treaty had failed to stop – Israel, India and Pakistan – and down the line, North Korea and Iran, from acquiring nuclear power. Actually, several of the big powers have over time supplied, sometimes secretly, these countries with nuclear know-how in contravention of the prevalent non-proliferation agreements.

Israel, whose nuclear “ambiguity,” a phenomenon amazingly accepted and remains unchallenged by the big powers, has for long assumed the right not to admit or deny it has nuclear weapons. But this week The Guardian of London revealed that secret documents have now revealed whereby Israel had offered in 1975 to sell nuclear warheads to the then-apartheid regime in South Africa, providing the first official documentary evidence of the state’s possession of nuclear weapons. The documents were uncovered by an American academic, Sasha Polakow-Suransky, in his research for a book on the policy of “ambiguity.”

The London paper said the documents undermine Israel’s attempts to suggest that, if it has nuclear weapons, it is a “responsible” power that would not misuse them, whereas countries such as Iran cannot be trusted. (Israeli President Shimon Peres, who was then his country’s defense minister at the time, has denied the existence of these discussions with apartheid South Africa).

Akiva Eldar of Haaretz explains that Israel gets away with all of this because “U.S. Jewry has become one of the Zionist movements most strategic assets.” He went on: “This influential community’s … influence on the centers of power in the United States is one of the cornerstones of Israel’s deterrence (and) the damage caused by the Netanyaho government to this core support of American Jews is no better than the threat of a nuclear Iran.”

The role of Brazil and Turkey, which still aspires to become a full-fledged member of the European Union, in bringing Iran around should not be dismissed or belittled. Of late and especially under the leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has acquired a leadership role in reaching out to Arab and Muslim countries, much to the delight of both Arab governments and very likely, western nations. Besides Turkey has important trade relations with all her neighbors, especially Iran where Turkish exports to Iran are estimated at $10 billion, and both countries expect to triple their trade volume in the near future.

In the view of Brazil’s popular president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Iran’s agreement to a nuclear fuel deal he helped craft proves his nation finally has become a new global power broker. Analysts in Brazil were reported saying that the stand of both Turkey and Brazil may have made it easier for Iran to accept a compromise that might have looked like a capitulation if it had been brokered by a less friendly country. “I think that diplomacy came out victorious today,” the Brazilian president said on his weekly radio program. “I think it was a result that shows we can build peace through dialogue.”
Since these so-called “third-world” leaders have been able to get Iran around, the Obama administration may have to find a way to engage Iran once again. After all the deal is similar to one originally crafted by the U.S. Moreover, it makes since to assume that the Brazilian and Turkish leaders would not have pursued this task without an American nod.
– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He contributed this article to

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