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The hazards of mediation

By TP Sreenivasan
June 01, 2010 11:37 IST
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There must be red faces in Turkey and Brazil on account of the rejection of their deal by the West, which had encouraged them to enter into negotiations with Iran. They must have discovered the hazards of mediation in an issue which has assumed innumerable dimensions, points out T P Sreenivasan

I was in Brasilia in April, together with 20 others from around the globe, to discuss 'Emerging structures of global governance' at the initiative of the Government of Brazil.

Our man in Brasilia, Ambassador B S Prakash, pleased with a highly successful visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who participated in two summits (Brazil-Russia-India-China and India-Brazil-South Africa) in one day, was all praise for Brazil's new initiatives in the international arena. Al Jazeera had a story at the same time about the emergence of Brazil on the centre-stage of the world. President Lula's domestic success and heightened status in South America had encouraged him to play a global role. The seminar on global governance itself, where the best minds of Brazil asserted that there was a turning point in the international system, was aimed at providing leadership for change.

Turkey too was poised for a new role on the global scene. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuloglu, in spelling out the new directions in Turkish foreign policy, had stated, 'Today, Turkey has a great deal of say in the international arena. More importantly, there is a critical group of countries that lends a careful ear to Turkey's stance on a myriad of regional and international issues. At this point, the world expects great things from Turkey and we are fully aware of our responsibility to carry out a careful foreign policy.'

Given their non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council and their willingness to wade into international waters, it was no wonder that the two countries took on the most pressing of the international problems of the day, the face-off between the United States and Iran. Though it looked like an initiative taken on by them at the instance of Iran, the United States had obviously encouraged them to strike a bargain, though Hillary Clinton had predicted that they would fail.

The skilful diplomats of Brazil and Turkey revived an old deal of swapping of Low Enriched Uranium in exchange for fuel rods, from which Iran had reneged ostensibly on account of the trust deficit between Iran and its Western interlocutors. The idea that the Iranian uranium will be in the trusted hands of Turkey and the fuel rods will come from the same source as indicated before made the deal possible.

The 10-article agreement is fairly simple and straightforward. The commitment to nonproliferation and respect to the rights of states to nuclear energy, research and fuel cycle have been asserted at the outset. In the most important part of the agreement, Turkey is to keep 1200 kg of Low Enriched Uranium fuel (3.5 per cent) owned by Iran with monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran itself. In exchange, the Vienna Group (France, Russia, the US and the IAEA) will deliver 120 kg of nuclear fuel with 20 pc purity) to Iran for use in its research reactor in Teheran.

By and large, the agreement is very similar to an earlier proposal which was made by the IAEA in consultation with the US and others. Iran did not agree at that time as it was not sure that the Western countries would honour their part of the agreement.

Both Turkey and Brazil were in direct contact with the US right from the Washington Nuclear Security Summit on this issue and they had reason to believe that the new deal would be acceptable to the US. The Turkish foreign minister was confident that the sanctions were no more necessary. 'This agreement should be regarded positively and there is no need for sanctions, now that we have made guarantees and the low enriched uranium will remain in Turkey,' he said.

India too voiced cautious optimism about the deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil. But Israel was quick in rejecting the deal, stating that Iran had "manipulated" Turkey and Brazil. Israel felt that Iran would not honour the agreement and the involvement of rising powers such as Brazil and Turkey would radically complicate matters. 'The Iranian nuclear installations are going to continue working and Teheran will pursue its efforts to obtain a military nuclear programme while developing long-range missiles,' said an Israeli official.

Predictably, the US too rejected the deal and moved forward with the sanctions resolution, which apparently has the acquiescence of both Russia and China. The US has pointed out that the new deal does not say anything about the cessation of enrichment of uranium by Iran. The European Union has also taken the position that the deal is not enough to stop work on tougher sanctions. 'If Iran has now accepted the IAEA proposal, this is welcome, but it does not solve the fundamental problem, which is that the international community has serious concerns about the peaceful intention of the Iran nuclear programme,' said a spokesperson of the European Union.

The reasons for the rejection of the deal were not clear immediately, but the main reason is that considerable time has passed since the West had made a similar proposal. At that time, the transfer of 1200 kg of Low Enriched Uranium would have left Teheran with much less than the 1000 kg of LEU required to make a bomb. But in the interim period, Teheran has enriched more uranium and even after the transfer, it will have sufficient stocks to move towards weaponisation. Today, Iran is estimated to have nearly 2500 kg of LEU. But why this fact was not pointed out to Turkey and Brazil at the time of the negotiations remains a mystery.

Iran, Turkey and Brazil have, however, continued to press the world to accept the deal and delay the imposition of sanctions. Turkey has written to 26 countries saying that the deal would resolve the nuclear standoff with Iran by way of diplomacy and negotiations.  The activism of Turkey and Brazil as the mediators is likely to embarrass the United States and its partners.

On the larger geopolitical context, the involvement of Turkey and Brazil in what was essentially a tussle between Iran and the West, appeared to mark the beginnings of a new world order. Iranian acceptance of a deal which was originally proposed by the West with new guarantors, one of them a regional Islamic country and the other outside the region, seemed like the rejection of the West as a partner and the discovery of an alternative, with broader international implications. Iran did not trust France and Russia, but it had no problems with Turkey and Brazil.

There must be red faces in Turkey and Brazil on account of the rejection of their deal by the West, which had encouraged them to enter into negotiations with Iran. The jubilation of Iran will also be an embarrassment for them. They must have discovered the hazards of mediation in an issue, which has assumed innumerable dimensions. Their zest for playing a new role in international relations may well have suffered a setback by the Iran experience.

T P Sreenivasan is a former ambassador of India to the United Nations, Vienna, and a former Governor for India at the International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna. He is currently the Director General, Kerala International Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, and a member of the National Security Advisory Board

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TP Sreenivasan