Don't get too carried away

What the Iran deal is missing


Don't get too carried away
by Meir Javedanfar

The nuclear deal announced Monday between Iran, Brazil and Turkey has certainly gotten many analysts and reporters excited, not least the LA Times, which described the agreement as, possibly, a ‘stunning’ breakthrough.

And it could be.

According to Ramin Mehmanparast, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, the deal will entail the transfer of 1200 kilograms of Iran’s low-enriched uranium (LEU), which has been enriched up to 3.5 percent, to Turkey. Once there, it will be exchanged for nuclear fuel.

But we shouldn’t get too carried away.

The 1200 kilograms that Iran will be sending abroad was part of a previous draft deal that the Obama administration offered to Tehran last October, a draft that was later rejected by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

To make a bomb, somewhere between 1000 to 1200 kilos of LEU is needed, which could then be turned into 25 kilograms of high-enriched uranium (HEU)—sufficient for one bomb.

The reason why Obama wanted Iran to ship over 1200 kilograms of LEU is that back in October the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran had 1763 Kg of LEU. By transferring 1200 (68 percent) of its LEU, Tehran would only be left with 563 kilograms. Based on its current capacity to produce 3 kilograms of LEU per day, it would have taken Tehran almost 5 months to have sufficient LEU again to make a bomb. Those five months would have allowed Obama sufficient time to negotiate with Iran (the last thing the US president wanted was to negotiate with Tehran while it was working on a bomb).

That was then. Iran has since increased its stockpile of LEU. According to the IAEA’s last report, published on May 18, Iran had 2065 Kilograms of LEU. It’s believed that this figure has now reached 2300 kilograms, meaning that by handing over 1200 Kilograms of its LEU (taking into consideration the LEU produced since February), Iran will be left 1100 Kilos—enough to make a bomb—while talks continue.

The fact that Iran agreed to hand over 1200 kilograms of its LEU is, of course, positive and certainly makes the deal worth looking at. However, what could have sealed the deal and made it impossible to reject is if the Turkish and Brazilian presidents had accompanied it with another important document.

Such a document would contain answers to questions from the IAEA that Iran has not yet produced.

These are crucial questions. So crucial, in fact, that until such time that Iran does answer them, the IAEA will refuse to declare that Iran’s nuclear programme is for civilian purposes only.

So, instead of rejecting the deal, Western governments should congratulate the Brazilian and Turkish governments for their achievement, but attach a condition for its acceptance, namely that it is conditional upon Iran answering the IAEA’s queries.

Although Brazil and Turkey are major powers, it’s unlikely that they’d go against the United States and the EU. As a consequence, rather than risk their relations with such important trade partners, they could well be motivated to go the extra mile, and pressure Iran to clarify questions regarding its nuclear program.

That would be a win-win situation for everyone. Iran would come out of isolation. Obama and the EU can calm fears and nerves about Iran’s programme and the Brazilians and the Turkish would be able to enjoy the economic fruits of their friendship with Iran without looking like they’ve just been bought out by Tehran. But until such a time, the fact that President Lula was accompanied by 300 businesspeople (and is planning to increase his dealings with Iran from the current $1.2 billion to $10 billion) will mean that’s exactly how his country looks. And so will Turkey, which is buying gas below market prices from Iran and whose exports to Iran have increased by more than 800 percent since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took office in 2002.

France also has an important role to play. The nuclear fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor can only be produced by the French or the Argentinians. Buenos Aires has rejected taking part, since it wants Iran to hand over suspects for the Israeli embassy bombing of 1992 and the AMIA bombing of 1994. France, however, has just greatly improved its position vis-a-vis Tehran by releasing Ali Vakili Rad, who murdered the former Iranian Prime Minister and dissident Shahpour Bakhtiar in 1991. This gives Paris leverage, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy should use this to pressure Iran to become more transparent over its nuclear programme.

Negotiations between the United States and Iran, after 32 years on hold, won’t be easy. Nor will they be short. They will take time and patience.

While Iran has every right to enrich uranium for civilian purposes, it must realize that the world doesn’t trust its intentions. Obama’s initial offer last October aimed to create an atmosphere of trust for negotiations by approaching Tehran. It also meant to take more than half of its LEU away, so that it can’t make a bomb while negotiating. This hardly seems too much to ask of the regime when it’s still allowed to enrich Uranium, despite three United Nations resolutions which urge it to stop.

But Iran appears to want to have the capacity to make a bomb while talking, making this latest deal a difficult sell to the West. The international community needs reassurances. Obama, for example, faced with difficult mid-term elections this year, needs to show his Republican rivals that he’s taking the issue of Iran very seriously. The same goes for the newly-elected Conservative-led British government—both want a negotiated settlement to this problem, but need some kind of firm indication that Iran’s goals are purely civilian.

The key to finding a peaceful settlement to the current problem is in Tehran’s own hands. The Iranian government could make life much easier for itself and everyone else by proving that its nuclear programme is for civilian purposes only. Until this happens, it will increase the cost of its nuclear programme, as well as that of becoming friends with its government. Ultimately, few countries are willing to go against the wishes of the five permanent members of the Security Council—Brazil and Turkey included.

First published in The Diplomat.

Meir is an Iranian born and Iranian and British educated Middle East Analyst based in Tel Aviv. He has a Masters in International Relations and Strategic Studies from Lancaster University , as well as extensive experience in the analysis of Middle Eastern economic and political issues.


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hamsade ghadimi

i'm not swayed by meir's

by hamsade ghadimi on

i'm not swayed by meir's argument either.  it seems that he added up the amount of these leu material with his trusty calculator. as if the amount of stored radioactive material, its production rate and its purity are known facts. there are reported number, numbers estimated by agencies and countries, and there are real numbers. as far as the agreement between brazil, turkey and iran goes, it won't amount to a hill of beans.  neither do u.n. and iaea's words. 

the whole premise of containment of nuclear activities under iaea is proven to be a royal failure. how many countries have developed nuclear weapons since the inception of iaea?, how much arms have the initial holders of nuclear arms have reduced? has any nuclear power given up its right to test nuclear bombs?  i think these are the objectives of the iaea.  these farcical events where the bozos shake hands and pose for cameras are just good public relations for the constituencies of these leaders and a superficial show of involvement in iran's nuclear talks.  just the fact that they hammered out this deal quickly to pre-empt the decision of security council on sanctions smells rotten.  both brazil and turkey got sweet side deals for their roles in iri's circus. 


Not too impressed by Meir Javedanfar analysis

by reader1 on


Not too impressed by Meir Javedanfar analysis. As always, Landan-neshin’s counter argument makes more sense. Still not sure which side had a better deal.  Nobody knows for sure whether IRI still has the capacity to produce and enrich uranium regardless of the intended purpose. I hear there are two major obstacles in IRI’s capacity to continue with production/enrichment of fissile materials

1.    Insufficient supply of Uranium ore
2.    Access to high tensile titanium or other rare metals for advanced centrifuges

If the capacity is no longer there then the end game may be near? Perhaps someone could shed some light on this.


The deal is not acceptable

by Kooshan on

The deal is not acceptable because this nuclear ROW is not supposed to end. There has to be major change in IRI strategy in the region to wind down cold war propaganda.

Also, it is not acceptable because the deal is negotiated without any presence of US allies in the negotiation. There has been an attempt like this few years ago and it was shut down.

This is a game of chess that both sides want to stubbornly see each other annhilitaed.


The nuclear row has to be looked at the broader picture of middle east dilemma to come up with a meaningful solution.




Landan-neshin has a very valid point here

by Bavafa on

It is amazing as how many "nuclear experts" are out there now days. The article has so many holes in it that I would not know where to begin.

I also agree with COP. As we are all so consumed by this 'mosh-o-gorbe bazi' by cockroaches on both side, meanwhile the Iranian people are suffocating and neither side give a damn about them. Although, it is worth mentioning that it is really not the West responsibility to give a damn about Iranian people and it should be IRI role to take care of their people, which they are failing at it miserably.

Vildemose: It may be an anomaly, but it would help the reader if you would clearly identify what portion of your comment belongs to you and what parts are cut&paste. Nothing wrong with quoting others, as long as it is clearly identified. Just a suggestion,



This is like a mix of twilight zone, Disneyland, & Avatar

by oktaby on

So called analysts coming out of woodwork, quoting themselves and IAEA. A gomashte mercenary accusing them of being mercenaries, checking on Gaza weather first, and then wondering if anti_Iran treason is being brewed.

Beam me up Scotty. 



Let's just keep analyzing

by Cost-of-Progress on

and talking about sanctions and the Mullahs' nuclear ambitions.....meanwhile, it is the people of iran who're taking it up the arse both ways.

These cockroaches are reallt smart, aren't they? 





Gary Sick's take

by vildemose on

May 18, 2010 Giving the finger to Iran (and Turkey and. . .)

Well, that didn’t take long.

In my previous note (yesterday, below) I wondered if we were smart enough to declare victory and take yes as an answer from Tehran. Today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced that a new package of sanctions against Iran had been approved by the major powers and would be sent to the UN Security Council later in the day.

In case anyone overlooked the significance of this action, which followed by one day the announcement by Brazil and Turkey of the successful conclusion of their negotiations with Iran, she added: “I think this announcement is as convincing an answer to the efforts undertaken in Tehran over the last few days as any we could provide.”

Take that, Tehran! But it turns out that this lifted middle finger was not limited to Iran. Only hours before Clinton’s announcement, the foreign minister of Turkey held his own press conference. Obviously unaware of what was about to happen, he described in some detail not only the tortuous negotiation process with Iran, but his perception that he was acting directly on behalf of the United States.

According to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, he had been in “constant contact” with Clinton herself and with national security adviser James Jones, while his prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had face-to-face encouragement from President Obama in December and April.

The objective of Turkey and Brazil was to persuade Iran to accept the terms of an agreement the United States had itself promoted only six months ago as a confidence-building measure and the precursor to more substantive talks. There were twelve visits back and forth between the Turk and his Iranian counterpart, some 40 phone conversations, and eighteen grueling hours of personal negotiations leading up to the presentation of the signed agreement on Monday.

What they wanted us to do was give the confidence to Iran to do the swap. We have done our duty,” said Davutoglu, calling the deal an important step for regional and global peace. “We were told that if Iran gives 1,200 kg without conditions, then the required atmosphere of trust would be created [to avoid sanctions]. So if we do all these things, and they still talk about sanctions … [it] will damage the psychological trust that has been created.”

The Turks and Brazilians, who felt they had “delivered” Iran on the terms demanded by the United States, were surprised and disappointed at the negative reactions from Washington. Little did they know that their success in Tehran, which had been given a 0-30 percent chance just days earlier, came just as the Americans were putting the final touches on a package of sanctions to be presented to the UN Security Council. The Tehran agreement was as welcome as a pothole in the fast lane, and the Americans were not reluctant to let their displeasure be known.

The five major powers had made up their minds (without consulting other members of the Security Council that currently includes both Turkey and Brazil), and these two mid-level powers were told in so many words to get out of the way.

The gratuitous insult aside, which approach do you believe would most likely result in real progress in slowing or halting Iran’s nuclear program? We have been imposing ever-greater sanctions on Iran for more than fifteen years. When we started they had zero centrifuges; today they have in excess of 9,000. To those who believe that one more package of sanctions will do what no other sanctions have done so far, I can only say I admire your unquenchable optimism.

More likely the Turkish ambassador to the UN had it about right when he said quite plainly about sanctions, “They don’t work.”

Would a negotiating track do better, perhaps mediated by two middle-level powers who have built up some credibility with Iran, like Algeria when it finally engineered the end to the US-Iran hostage crisis in 1980-81?  We’ll never know. Tonight the hardliners in Iran (and their American counterparts) are celebrating.

The Iranian hardliners had already begun asking questions about the deal, fearful that Iran had given away too much. Now they don’t have to worry since everyone knows that Iran will never be willing or able to negotiate under the threat of sanctions.

For the Revolutionary Guards it is a huge bonus. As foreign companies are driven away, the Guards progressively take over more and more of the economy. And as restrictions on trade grow, so do their opportunities to manage the immensely profitable smuggling routes. Like their American counterparts, but for different reasons, they thrive on an environment of threat and isolation.

The presidents of Turkey and Brazil have been humiliated. But the Great Powers are confident that their lesser cousins know their place and will show deference when the chips are down. They’ll do what they have to do. They always do.

Don’t they… ?



Shalom Meir

by amgw4 on

How is the Koogel at your house today my Israeli citizen friend?


Spinning Assumptions.... Again!!

by Landan-Neshin on

The author, whom I know quite well, might have many hidden talents but 'the minimum you need to make one atom bomb' is not one of them, unless, of course, he has been commissioned to spin,yet again, certain old and tired assumptions to keep the 'Iran threat' brand alive.

The author, in his usual self assured style, states that even by transfering the agreed amount of LEU to Turkey, Iran still would have enough material to make one atom bomb. In this short sentence, the author, single handedly, assumes two crucial points that requires  explanations. firstly, that he knows something that even the Turkish and Brazilian leaders after months of negotiations did not realise, secondly, Iran actively and covertly is engaged in making a bomb- a claim that even the US intelligence agencies 'wrap' it in a more cautious term of 'potentially reaching the capability of...' .     

Whereas, the key question here should be that if, and at this stage nothing more than an a big if, the agreement reached in Tehran between Turkey,Iran and Brazil is put to practice and worked well, then who would be pleased and relieved by it and who would be disappointed and dejected! I leave that dichotomy to the author to ponder on.