Did Iran outmaneuver the Obama administration?

This must be what Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton mean by “smart power.”  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, not exactly known for his erudition or deep intellect, has managed to outmaneuver the US on uranium enrichment, reaching a deal with Brazil and Turkey to exchange raw nuclear fuel for processed fuel rods.  That deal still allows Iran to enrich some of its own uranium, but even while the US objects, it allows political cover to Russia and China:


Iran backed the Obama administration into check in its ongoing nuclear chess match by announcing its own fuel swap deal after a Western-backed plan fell apart last fall.

The country, trying to avoid sanctions after it rejected a deal with the U.S., Russia, France and the International Atomic Energy Agency in October, steered around the United States in brokering a swap with Turkey and Brazil.

In a sense, Iran left the Obama administration an out by declaring it would continue producing 20 percent enrichment uranium even as it proposes shipping nuclear material to Turkey. To become official, the deal still has to be agreed to by the same group of nations that pursued the deal last fall — and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a written statement that while the fuel swap would be a “positive step,” any move to continue enrichment internally would be a “direct violation” of Security Council resolutions.

John Bolton says that Tehran may have backed the White House into a corner:

Under the terms of the latest proposal, Iran would ship about 2,600 pounds of enriched uranium to Turkey in exchange for fuel rods. Those rods would be enriched to a level strong enough for a research reactor but not a warhead.

But Bolton said the apparent gesture merely gives powerful countries like Russia and China — two of the five permanent Security Council members — a ready excuse to back away from sanctions. Plus Brazil and Turkey are non-permanent members of the Security Council and unlikely to punish Iran after winning the country’s cooperation in a deal they brokered.

“At a minimum this slows everything in the Security Council down,” Bolton told FoxNews.com. “They’re just playing out the string here.”


Iran played a clever game with this deal.  The previous deal offered to Tehran also involved 2600 pounds, but last fall, that was most of their enriched uranium.  Now it’s about half of Iran’s inventory, and perhaps less than that.  That’s because Iran has continued to enrich uranium in defiance of the UN, the IAEA, and the Obama administration.

Obama faulted the Bush administration for taking too harsh a line with Iran.  During the campaign, Obama foolishly pledged to meet one-on-one with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; after assuming office, Obama has tried a number of conciliatory gestures, including the virtual ignoring of Iranian dissent after a mockery of a presidential election kept Ahmadinejad in office.  It took weeks for the Obama administration to scold Tehran for its oppression.

Now Ahmadinejad managed to outwit Obama, and not without warning, either.  According to the Fox report, the White House knew full well that Turkey — a NATO ally — was working on a separate deal with Iran.  Did they not think to pressure Turkey into demanding an end to all Iranian enrichment activity?  Or is that yet another example of “smart power,” in which the White House apologizes for Arizona’s decision to enforce the law but fails to press our national security interests with allies and opponents alike?


Update (AP): WaPo concurs: We’re getting suckered.

As initially laid out, the swap proposal would have removed about 70 percent of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium for conversion into fuel for a nuclear reactor. But because Iran has continued to enrich uranium since the plan was first raised, a deal based on the same terms would remove only about 50 percent of the country’s stockpile.

In the meantime, Iran has started enriching uranium to an even higher level — from 3.5 percent to 19.75 percent — and Iranian officials said they will keep doing so, even though the need for that enrichment has now been negated by the swap deal announced Monday.

The Obama administration now faces the uncomfortable prospect of rejecting a proposal it offered in the first place — or seeing months of effort to enact new sanctions derailed.

Ironically, the swap proposal has nothing to do with the sanctions under consideration by the U.N. Security Council, which relate to Iran building another nuclear facility in secret and failing to heed previous demands to stop enriching uranium.

Iran has the right to terminate the deal at any point.

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