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Opinion: UN sanctions risk real progress on Iran

Despite an agreement on sanctions, the US and UN would be wise to consider the deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil in Tehran.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington May 18, 2010. At right is Defense Secretary Robert Gates. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Editor's note: Stephen Kinzer, author of the new book "Reset: Iran, Turkey and America's Future," has just left Iran, where he had a rare glimpse inside the country at a time when many correspondents are being denied journalist visas. He traveled on a tourist visa and, now that he is out, offers GlobalPost this analysis and a series of upcoming reports on his recent journey.

FRANKFURT, Germany — Just one day after the announcement of a deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil to defuse the gathering crisis over Iran's nuclear program, the United Nations has finally come up with a draft resolution to press for harsh sanctions on Iran.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced today that the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council have drafted a resolution setting out a new sanctions package designed to pressure Iran to curtail its nuclear program.

The draft, which Clinton said Russia and China had accepted, was being circulated to the full Security Council.

Should the U.N. continue pressing for harsher sanctions even as Turkey and Brazil work to arrange a nuclear fuel swap that would send 1,200 kilograms of Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium to Turkey?

No, say the Turkish and Brazilian leaders who brokered the deal. "This plan is a route for dialogue and takes away any grounds for sanctions," Foreign Minister Celso Amorim of Brazil told reporters after the breakthrough in Tehran.

Not so fast, the Obama administration has replied. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issued a statement in Washington suggesting that the new deal was “simply words.” He insisted that if Iran does not make more concessions, it must “face consequences, including sanctions.”

The Turkey-Brazil deal does not end the possibility that Iran could one day develop nuclear weapons. Specialists have already begun picking it apart, and they have found worrying loopholes. Nonetheless it includes some tantalizing concessions. By reflexively dismissing it, the United States risks seeming unreasonable and petulant. A wiser course would be to welcome the deal as a promising foundation, and seek positive ways to build on it.

If this crisis were about almost any country other than Iran, the U.S. and its friends in London and Paris would probably have taken this tack. In their dealings with Iran, though, Western powers often seem guided more by emotion than cool calculation. They sometimes behave as if they will accept nothing less than a full Iranian surrender, preferably including a strong dose of public humiliation. That approach to a proud country with 25 centuries of rich history is doomed to fail.