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Iran Dangles Prospect of Talks

But it plays up Turkish deal, a no-go for the West

Marc Tracy
July 29, 2010

Turkey and Iran are moving ahead on the nuclear swap deal they cut in the spring, even as the United States and other Western powers seek to convince Iran, which they have since sanctioned at the U.N. Security Council, to take their deal.

To back up briefly: Recall that last October, the Western powers, led by the United States, offered Iran a deal under which the Islamic Republic would turn over its unenriched uranium to Russia and in return receive 20 percent enriched uranium. Iran turned it down. Then, in May, Turkey, Brazil, and Iran announced that they had reached the same deal, only with Turkey, not Russia, making the swap. This was an attempt to persuade Security Council holdouts, namely China, that sanctions weren’t necessary. It didn’t work—China and 12 other countries either voted for or abstained on the economic sanctions, which passed. The only countries that voted against them? Those would be Turkey and Brazil.

Earlier this week, Turkey and Iran announced that they considered their deal to still be in play, despite the sanctions. The Turkish foreign minister said it could serve as a helpful “framework” (of course, it itself was based upon the earlier, Western-supported “framework”).

But later in the week (still with me?), Iran also said it might enter into talks with the West without preconditions and could also agree to stop enriching fuel. You know, maybe. “There’s a concern that Iran is pursuing the fuel swap as a way to weaken sanctions and avoid the important questions,” writes the Wall Street Journal. Ya think?

The good news is that this new Iranian openness suggests that the new sanctions, which were generally perceived as toothless except to the extent that they demonstrated unity and the West’s ability to get Russia and China to take a harsher line, may actually be doing some damage. Which is why it’s not surprising that the United States, though skeptical, is interested in talking to Iran.

It is worth noting that the Iranian nuclear question generally and the competing fuel swap deals specifically are those rare issues that unite AIPAC and J Street: They both consider an Iranian bomb to be an extremely bad thing, and they both consider the Turkish deal to be insufficient.

And the clock continues: Every day that Iran is promising more negotiations with the West is a day it can develop its fuel and technology and the rest. It is also a day on which Israel can decide Iran has had quite enough time and that, instead, a different course is to be pursued. Bottom line: You should be rooting for talks with the West, and a deal with the West, ASAP.

Iran Offers To Resume Nuclear Talks, Rein in Enrichment [WSJ]
U.S. Seeking Fuel Swap Meeting with Iran [JPost]
Turkey, Brazil FMs: Iran Nuclear Agreement Still Alive [Haaretz]
Earlier: Reining In Iran

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.