Has The Administration’s Response To The Iran-Brazil-Turkey Deal Squandered Diplomatic Capital?

hillaryThe Washington Post has a good summary of the measures contained in the new UN sanctions package announced yesterday by Secretary of State Clinton:

Among other measures, the resolution would expand an asset freeze and travel ban against individuals and entities linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. A critical element still to be negotiated is a list of those names.

The resolution would establish an embargo on large weapons systems such as battle tanks, combat aircraft and missiles — a previous U.N. resolution called on nations only to “exercise vigilance and restraint” in such trade — but would not include the comprehensive arms embargo sought by the United States and France. Iran could continue to buy light weapons.

As the article notes, the measures fall short of “crippling” — a consequence of securing Russian and Chinese support for the resolution — but they are significant, and do provide an international imprimatur for further multilateral sanctions by the U.S. and European Union.

As Secretary Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday, in response to Monday’s announcement of a nuclear compromise deal by Iran, Turkey, and Brazil, the new UN sanctions resolution “is as convincing an answer to the efforts undertaken in Tehran over the last few days as any we could provide.”

It’s not hard to figure out why the U.S. is not thrilled by the Iran-Turkey-Brazil deal. Iran’s agreeing to ship out 1200 kg of low-enriched uranium in May 2010 is very different than Iran’s agreeing to ship out 1200 kg of low-enriched uranium in October 2009, when 1200 kg represented half of Iran’s LEU stock. Because Iran has continued enriching in the interim, it now represents around half. But I really have to question the tenor and timing of Clinton’s announcement. By not even waiting a few days to pretend to seriously examine and consider the terms of the Iran-Turkey-Brazil deal, the administration has potentially squandered a lot of the diplomatic capital that it generated by what was widely seen as a good-faith effort to engage the Islamic Republic toward an agreement on its nuclear program, capital that it will need to cultivate greater international cooperation in enforcing the sanctions.

It’s clear that Iran saw the announcement of the deal as a way to head off international pressure. But that doesn’t mean that its acceptance of the terms isn’t significant — it is. In my view, it would have been smarter for Obama to acknowledge the deal as a potentially positive step, but make clear that more is needed, similar to how he pocketed Netanyahu’s sort-of-but-not-really acceptance of a Palestinian state last year. As it is, by scrambling to get the UN sanctions resolution finalized in the shadow of the Brazil-Turkey intervention, that resolution now looks much more like an end in themselves, rather than a means to arriving at a mutually acceptable agreement.

There’s also the question of how the deal, and the quick rejection, will impact the situation inside Iran, particularly as we approach the anniversary of Iran’s June 12 presidential elections and the subsequent protests. As Iranian dissident and democracy activist Akbar Ganji noted last week, President Obama’s willingness to forthrightly engage Iran helped create a favorable environment for the Iranian democracy movement by placing the focus on the Iranian regime and discrediting the regime’s claim to be the victim of Western plots to deny Iran its nuclear rights. Those claims will look far more plausible now, right at a time when Iran’s democracy movement is gearing up for more demonstrations to mark the anniversary of the stolen election.