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Perhaps I still have a bit too much of that "hopey-changey" Kool-Aid in my bloodstream, but I read the White House statement in response to the Iran-Turkey-Brazil announcement as saying to Iran: "We acknowledge that you moved. We're still ready to deal, and we'll see you in Geneva."

The White House statement is here:

I think it's fair to assume that a good deal of thought went into crafting this statement. Robert Gibbs did not come up with these words on his own. The folks in the Obama Administration who run nuclear diplomacy chose these words.

So what words did they choose, and what should we infer from them?

  1. "We acknowledge the efforts that have been made by Turkey and Brazil."

This is positive. Regardless of what the Obama Administration said before the President of Brazil went to Iran, what the Obama Administration is saying now is: "Mazl Tov! Parabens! Tebrikler!" This is good. If you want a deal, the role of Brazil and Turkey is positive, not negative. Clearly, the involvement of Brazil and Turkey is raising the comfort level of the Iranians with the fuel swap deal. That's a good thing that should be encouraged. If you want a deal, you want the other side to be comfortable with the deal. Plus, now Brazil and Turkey have skin in the game. If Iran reneges, it's going to make Brazil and Turkey look bad. That's good. We are now in a situation where it's not "P5+1" on one side of the table and Iran on the other, but P5+1 on one side of the table and Iran+2 on the other. If your goal is to isolate Iran, that's bad. But if your goal it's to get a deal, that's good. The more signatures there are on the paper, the stronger the deal is.

  1. "The proposal announced in Tehran must now be conveyed clearly and authoritatively to the IAEA before it can be considered by the international community."

This is perfectly reasonable, and in fact welcoming. "The proposal must be sent to Geneva before it can be considered" means "when you send this proposal to Geneva, I am going to consider it." Iran has said it will formally submit this proposal in a week.

  1. "Given Iran’s repeated failure to live up to its own commitments, and the need to address fundamental issues related to Iran’s nuclear program, the United States and international community continue to have serious concerns."

The issue isn't resolved yet. No news there.

  1. "While it would be a positive step for Iran to transfer low-enriched uranium off of its soil as it agreed to do last October, Iran said today that it would continue its 20% enrichment, which is a direct violation of UN Security Council resolutions and which the Iranian government originally justified by pointing to the need for fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor."

This is the most interesting sentence to me in the White House statement.  

First, it re-affirms that the transfer of LEU out of Iran is positive. It makes no reference to the purported issue that due to subsequent enrichment, the absolute amount of LEU represented by the October deal has fallen as a percentage of Iran's LEU stockpile. Instead, it focuses on the 20% enrichment, "which is a direct violation of UN Security Council resolutions and which the Iranian government originally justified by pointing to the need for fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor."

This is a very interesting choice of words, because while it is of course absolutely true that Iran's 20% enrichment "is a direct violation of UN Security Council resolutions," as everyone knows, any Iranian enrichment of uranium whatsoever is just as much of "a direct violation of UN Security Council resolutions" as 20% enrichment. So, while pounding the table about "Iranian enrichment," the Obama Administration is making a deliberate choice to only pound the table about 20% enrichment, which is a billion times more reasonable than pounding the table about enrichment per se.

Regardless of what one thinks about the intrinsic signifance of 20% enrichment - this enrichment is under IAEA inspection, after all - as a political matter, 1) Iran was not doing 20% enrichment at the time of the October negotiation, 2) the Administration correctly notes that Iran said it was doing 20% enrichment to fuel the Tehran Research Reactor, and so, as the Administration's statement implies, in terms of meeting Iran's needs, if there is a fuel swap deal, Iran should be willing to suspend 20% enrichment, and in any event 3) Iran's decision to go to 20% enrichment was universally interpreted as an Iranian pressure tactic to push the West on negotiations around the fuel deal (Iran is not believed to have the technology to use the 20% enriched uranium as fuel in its medical research reactor), so again, if that was the goal of the Iranian move, then Iran should be willing to back off of 20% enrichment as part of a deal on the fuel swap.

  1. "Furthermore, the Joint Declaration issued in Tehran is vague about Iran’s willingness to meet with the P5+1 countries to address international concerns about its nuclear program, as it also agreed to do last October."

Which merely reaffirms that the goal of all this was to support the P5+1 negotiation, so if that negotiation does not go forward, the fuel swap deal doesn't have any meaning. Again, no news here.

In sum, I read the Administration statement as saying: we'll see you in Geneva, and when we see you in Geneva, we're going to ask you about two things: 20% enrichment, and the ongoing dialogue with the P5+1 about your nuclear program. And if we get satisfaction on these points, we can still have a deal.

Of course, it will be pointed out to us that all of this is "only" about an interim deal, to tide us over, to slow down the clock, to deescalate tensions and build confidence for the main negotiation. So? The beauty and significance of the fuel swap deal which was proposed by the United States was that the US was making clear to Iran that the US was willing to talk about other means by which Iran could establish international confidence in its nuclear intentions besides the non-starter demand of suspension of enrichment. If this is still the US position, then there is a plausible path to a meaningful negotiation.

Originally posted to Robert Naiman on Tue May 18, 2010 at 06:29 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I think (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Robert Naiman, papicek

    I would have been more surprised if the administration came out poo poo'd this deal. It woulds sort of say hey only we can make deals with Iran, totally going against Obama's whole foreign policy and engagement thinking.

    In the choice between changing ones mind and proving there's no need to do so, most people get busy on the proof.

    by jsfox on Tue May 18, 2010 at 06:42:01 AM PDT

  •  for all my noise over the Obama administration... (0+ / 0-)

    this is one area I've few complaints over: foreign policy.

    I read Gibb's remarks, and I see no major change of position here. The US will continue in its role of "bad cop" while surrogates make the approaches that Washington cannot. My working assumption on this is that Turkey and Brazil are making their approaches to Tehran either on behalf of our diplomatic effort, which would mean that the language and positions offered Brazilian and Turkish diplomats is created or vetted by the US. Or, this is a Brazilian and Turkish effort that the US actively supports, offering facilities less easily available to either Turkish or Brazilian diplomacy.

    Clinton and Obama have turned out to be adept diplomats. Washington will get nowhere making an approach on it's own, no matter who is in office.

    Plus ça change we can believe in.
    I'm Moving On . . . .

    by papicek on Tue May 18, 2010 at 06:52:41 AM PDT

  •  china this morning gave (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dancewater, Robert Naiman, papicek

    two thumps up for the dipolmacy effort from turkey and brasil , and a minute later here in europe
    the media decided to go neutral on it , before they claimed things like "doubtfull deal" or "can we trust the turks " but then china says great and the mediaq picture changed.
    it is funny to see two "smal" countrys running in and solving it in 2 weeks.
    will be intresting to see what comes next.

  •  Israel (0+ / 0-)

    I don't for a moment believe that Israel is drving US policy vis a vis Iran, but the Israeli reaction is stunning.  They describe a negotiated deal and the reduced chances of war as:

    A debacle for Israel

    The agreement on the transfer of Iran's enriched uranium, achieved via Turkish-Brazilian mediation, is an important victory for Iranian diplomacy and a debacle for Israeli policy. The deal reduces the chances, which were slim to begin with, of new sanctions being imposed on Iran, and makes a military strike against Iran even less feasible.

    •  Things wrong with this post (0+ / 0-)
      1. The "Israeli reaction?" This is one editorial in one Israeli newspaper, not an official Israeli reaction.
      1. You completely mischaracterize the subject of Melman's editorial.

      He is not referring to "a negotiated deal and reduced chances of war" generically as bad for Israel. Nor is he referring to the agreement among the P-5 that Robert Naiman parses in this diary. Melman is talking specifically about the Turkey-Brazil agreement that Iran proposed yesterday, which is clearly a negotiating tactic by the Iranians to forestall sanctions so that it could continue to enrich uranium for a bomb. As today's Times story points about, that would still leave Iran enough fuel for a bomb. That is not an acceptable "negotiated deal." Fortunately, the P-5 didn't fall for it, a stunning success for Obama's diplomatic approach. As Naiman points out, the Obama administration remains open to negotiating a real agreement, just not the sort of games Iran wants to keep playing.

      •  Except (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dancewater

        That Israeli government officials have made similar statements denouncing this deal, and I am far from mischaracterizing the subject of Melman's editorial, which is the exact same subject as this diary.

        •  You're missing the point (0+ / 0-)

          Yes, Israeli has (rightly) dismissed the Turkey-Brazil deal. It's a bad deal. But denouncing a deal that would allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon is not the same thing as denouncing a negotiated settlement to avoid war, as you implied.

  •  And just for fun (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mll, Sandino, dancewater

    The right wing is losing it pretty badly, with the Wall Street Journal calling it a "fiasco," a "diplomatic double-cross of Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Brazil's Lula," and praying for an Israeli attack.

    •  "Hapless diplomacy" (0+ / 0-)

      Gotta love seeing the WSJ editorial board make such blatant fools of themselves...

      Good luck drawing those distinctions with the Chinese or Russians, who will now be less likely to agree even to weak sanctions.

      [emphasis added]

      ...that their own news headline repudiates their editorial.

      Clinton: U.S. Reaches Iran Sanctions Agreement With Russia and China
      The Wall Street Journal
      MIDDLE EAST NEWS
      MAY 18, 2010, 11:25 A.M. ET
      By PETER SPIEGEL

      •  We'll see (0+ / 0-)

        We've heard that headline before.  I wouldn't count your chickens just yet.

        •  Yes, we will (0+ / 0-)

          Russia and China have agreed to (weak) sanctions on Iran in the past, which the Security Council has passed. But if you read the article, it's clear that what Russia and China have agreed to this time goes far beyond anything they've accepted in the past. That's a solid success for the Obama administration's diplomacy, and pretty much repudiates the WSJ editorial that you linked to above.

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