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Opinion: Push is on for UN sanctions on Iran

Turkey and Brazil wade into the Iran nuclear mess โ€” to Washington's dismay

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)

NEW YORK — The surprise Turkish-Brazilian diplomatic coup this week, which resulted in Iran agreeing to transfer a quantity of its uranium abroad for enrichment, may or may not help solve the standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program. But it does indicate that nations of increasing influence whose traditions and history place them far outside George W. Bush’s black-and-white world of “evil” don’t intend stand aside as another nuclear nonproliferation crisis slides toward armed conflict.

Tehran would ship 1,200 kilos, or just over half of its uranium stockpile, to Turkey, where it would be enriched under international safeguards to the level necessary for use in medical applications — radiation therapy machines and other such devices. The need for this kind of nuclear medical capability, along with the pursuit of “peaceful research,” has been one of the explanations Iran has offered for the unusual amount of uranium enrichment it has engaged in.

Few believe this explanation, of course. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the U.S. view clear Tuesday before the Senate by announcing an agreement with the five permanent members of the Security Council on a new round of sanctions. The draft is now being circulated to the full Security Council.

Nor does the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) take Iran at its word any longer. The IAEA has repeatedly uncovered evidence of secret facilities and undeclared efforts that look to most reasonable eyes like the byproduct of a weaponization program. But in the absence of a smoking gun — i.e., literally, a document showing plans for an Iranian warhead — neither the IAEA nor the West can prove anything.

And, frankly, given the fiasco over Iraq, what percentage of the world would believe such claims, anyway? This is the dilemma America (and, more pointedly, Israel) finds itself in. Credibility on this issue is absolutely nil.

Thus, Iran’s own history of lying about its nuclear program gets lost in the shuffle. Even if the Turkish-Brazilian deal were to take effect, it is significantly looser in terms than the deal cut last October and subsequently abrogated by Iran. Also, it only transfers 52 percent of Iran’s declared uranium abroad, leaving the other 48 percent to be enriched “for research purposes” to 20 percent purity. That’s still a long way from the 85 percent or more purity needed for nuclear warheads. But such gaps can be closed with hard work and focus.

This, of course, is where the world has been for the better part of a decade — at least since the discovery of the secret Iranian nuclear facility in 2003 at Natanz.