The Obama administration is essentially ignoring the Iranian nuclear deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responded today by announcing that the United States has reached an agreement on sanctions with the other permanent members of the Security Council, including Russia and China.
She said nothing about the deal brokered by our Turkish and Brazilian allies even though we strongly promoted an almost identical deal last fall. Furthermore, the administration had encouraged the Turkish and Brazilian effort, but now, with an agreement in hand, we have gone mute.
No doubt, skepticism about Iranian intentions is well-placed. Last fall, the administration embraced a deal it believed the Iranians were supporting only to have Tehran back off in the face of opposition from hardliners.
But we should know the pattern.
The Iranian leadership tends to respond to its most reactionary and chauvinistic elements the same way Israel's does. Israeli prime ministers refuse to cross the powerful settler lobby. Iranian leaders turn tail in the face of opposition from the hard-line clerics, the Revolutionary Guard and their various allies.
That is why the latest proposal could easily disappear into the spring mist. But that does not mean we should simply pretend that it doesn't exist. Or that Brazil and Turkey's effort to get the Iranians to agree to a deal should be ignored. How does that advance US interests?
Since FDR's day, American leaders have given lip service to the idea that the planet should not be run by a few superpowers. Turkey and Brazil are "next tier" powers and deserve credit for stepping up to help resolve the stalemate over Tehran's nuclear development.
Under the proposal's terms, Iran would send 1200kg of low-enriched uranium to Turkey and, in return, will receive 120kg of enriched nuclear fuel for use in a medical research reactor for cancer treatment.
This is essentially the same deal the United States endorsed back in the fall of 2009, although the involvement of Turkey and Brazil is new.
The deal is not perfect. Iran would send out of the country less low-enriched uranium than under the 2009 proposal. Iran would also continue its own uranium enrichment program, although only to a level of 20%, far below the threshold for producing a nuclear weapon.
But so what? Few things in international politics are perfect, or even close.
At the very least, the proposal offers a vehicle for the renewal of talks (direct, indirect, whatever) over Iran's nuclear program. At best, it offers a way to end the crisis and commence a dialogue with Iran on the whole host of issues that divide us -- including Iranian support for Hezbollah and other terrorists.
That dialogue should also cover the one issue the United States refuses even to discuss: Israel's nuclear arsenal.
This is not to say that Israel does not need a nuclear deterrent. But it is simply ridiculous to believe that America can ever be taken seriously on proliferation issues while our President's response to any question about Israel's 200-plus weapons is to look away and say "next question." Does anyone outside of Washington or Jerusalem believe that we can simultaneously wink both eyes at Israel's existing nuclear arsenal and insist that Iran end all its efforts at any enrichment?
Add to that the fact that US policy on Iran is AIPAC's policy.
AIPAC wanted no part of the Turkish/Brazil deal, wants the international sanctions and are happily waiting for both Houses of Congress to pass its bills that would, in AIPAC's lovely term, apply "crippling sanctions" to the Iranian people by blocking all oil exports to the country.
So, we can thank the lobby for pushing Obama to ignore the Brazil/Turkey opportunity, for vehemently exempting Israel from international nonproliferation policies, and for a gas embargo that will inflict suffering on the Iranian people while bolstering the regime.
But sanctions will not work -- whether multilateral or unilateral. They will only deprive ordinary Iranians (including, of course, old people, women and children) of some of life's necessities -- thereby punishing people who are being punished enough by having to live under a repressive regime. And they will enrich the worst elements in Iranian society who will sell the gas they easily corner at an astronomical profit.
Nor will sanctions weaken the regime. More likely, they will strengthen a teetering dictatorship by providing it the outside enemy it needs to galvanize support it does not currently enjoy.
Of course, many advocates of sanctions don't expect or even want them to succeed. They simply want to exhaust the sanctions options to get the option they prefer: an attack on Iranian nuclear sites by Israel or the United States.
A military strike on Iran is no option at all. Not only would it jeopardize US interests throughout the Arab and Muslim world (including, most significantly, our troops), it would likely produce a devastating attack on Israel by Hezbollah which is based on Israel's northern border. The idea of Israelis being forced to flee from towns and cities as far south as Tel Aviv is horrific to contemplate.
Nonetheless, the neocons and others who championed war with Iraq are undaunted by the possibility of an even worse debacle in Iran.
At this point, it is impossible to know how this will all play out. But we can say this. Those in the media (and among the neocon establishment) who are treating the Turkish-Brazilian proposal as some sort of threat to US interests are as wrongheaded in 2010 as they were in 2002-3. Whether we like it or not, Iran will have a say in determining the nature of its nuclear program. Acting as if it doesn't, as if we decide, will only encourage the most xenophobic elements in that country. (Imagine telling the Israelis that they have to implement our plan for them!)
The goal of America's Iranian policy should not be exacerbating the situation but defusing it. If the Turkish-Brazilian proposal leads to the export of Iran's nuclear material and to a US-Iranian dialogue on all the issues that divide us, we will all be better off.
Al Smith, the 1928 Democratic candidate for President, used to say: "The only cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy." The same goes for diplomacy, especially in a world with 20,000 nuclear warheads.
Sanctions are not the answer.