At issue | May 21 McClatchy Newspapers commentary, "Brazilian president fails in effort at global leadership"
Several weeks have passed since Turkey and Brazil signed a swap agreement with Iran by which Iran is obliged to send 1,200 kilograms (2,640 pounds) of uranium enriched to around 4-5 percent to be held in escrow in Turkey.
In return, Iran is to be supplied with 20 percent enriched uranium necessary for the production of medicinal isotopes. The agreement would allow Iran to continue to enrich uranium. But the swap was intended to reduce the amount of uranium available to Iran to produce 90 percent enrichment.
It must be noted there is no evidence that Iran desires to produce nuclear weapons, even if it were to attain the capability to enrich uranium to the 90 percent level necessary for the production of nuclear weapons. However, there are speculations that Iran would like to achieve the ability to produce 90 percent highly enriched uranium.
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In spite of President Barack Obama's letter to Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva encouraging him to negotiate such a deal, one day after the announcement that Iran had accepted Brazil's and Turkey's conditions, the State Department announced that it was going ahead with plans to submit proposals to the U.N. Security Council to place further sanctions on Iran.
Opinion in Brazilian media, but especially in Turkish media, was that the United States was still bent on regime change or armed conflict with Iran, either alone or with Israel.
U.S. media, especially The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, argued that da Silva and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had been "deceived' by Tehran. Times columnist Tom Friedman called the swap "as ugly as it gets," apparently favoring sanctions or war.
However successful or unsuccessful the swap agreement will be assessed diplomatically and historically, it does signify an important demarcation point in post-World War II diplomacy and politics.
The agreement makes clear that the U.S. can no longer bring to bear its hegemonic power on an important issue declared by Washington to be in U.S. interests.
Brazil is one of the top 15 countries in the world by econometric measurements; Turkey is one of the top 20. Both are the dominant countries in their respective regions of Latin American and the Middle East.
By assuming the risks of taking the leading diplomatic negotiating roles in an intractable global issue, and doing so successfully, both Brazil and Turkey announced loudly and clearly that they would no longer accept the dictates of Washington on issues vital to their own national security.
President da Silva has proclaimed differences with Washington, especially regarding policies in Latin and Central America for some time. Prime Minister Erdogan has done the same since coming to power in 2002.
In January 2009 at the Davos Economic Summit, Erdogan got into an argument with Israeli President Shimon Peres angrily stating that Israel "knew well how to kill," referring to Israel's actions in its war with Gaza.
Turkey has profound concerns with regard to its relations with Iran. The two countries share a 400-mile border. Turkey obtains 20 percent of its energy supplies from Iran and is involved heavily in the development of Iran's oil, gas and hydroelectric industries.
More important, Iran, like Turkey, is fighting strongly armed Kurdish nationalist movements and Turkey does not want to see the expected chaos, such as occurred in Iraq. An attack on Iran could inflame further the armed conflict taking place between Turks and Kurds. Ankara says the resurgence of war with the Kurds in Turkey was exponentially increased as a result of U.S. support for strong Kurdish autonomy in Iraq.
In short, Brazil and Turkey saw the opportunity to negotiate with Iran as an obligation to avoid a potentially destructive war and to bring Iran back into the comity of nations and to strengthen their images as responsible powers desiring to take their respectful places on the world stage and to limit what they see as the destructive role of the United States in their own regions.
The good news is that the diminishing of U.S. power as indicated by the agreement is good not only for Latin America and the Middle East but for the American people, as well.