The three-way agreement that was announced between Iran, Brazil and Turkey on Monday to swap 1200 kilograms of low-enriched Iranian uranium for 120 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20 percent in order to activate nuclear research reactors in Tehran is being subjected to analysis in numerous capitals around the world in order to see if it served as a basis for tackling the Iranian nuclear crisis. Despite the initial reserved reactions from the West, some believe that it is difficult to reject the agreement altogether, especially as it was formulated based on the proposal that was made by Western states and the IAEA last October to swap nuclear fuel. As a result, there are those who now call for considering the three-way Tehran agreement a step that can be built upon in order to deal with this thorny issue because rejecting it means relying on the harshness of sanctions or on leaving the door open to the possibility of a military strike, which is fraught with risks and repercussions for the region.
Regardless of the agreement, and whether or not it was a maneuver to win time and to divide the voices of the members of the international Security Council based on the consideration that Turkey and Brazil are both non-permanent members of the Security Council, and that China announced that it welcomed the agreement, there is another matter that deserves consideration; the role of Ankara in the deal and its activities in the region.
It is well known that there is regional rivalry between Turkey and Iran and there are controversial issues under the surface. But this did not prevent Turkey from maintaining important ties with Iran allowing it to play the role of a mediator between Tehran and the West, especially regarding the nuclear issue, and to take on a fundamental role along with Brazil in reaching an agreement making it easier for Iran to say that it did not give in to the West despite that it practically accepted the deal to swap nuclear fuel that was adopted by the 5+1 group.
The role of the Turkish mediator brings to mind what the Algerian diplomats did in the 1980s to solve the hostage crisis at the US Embassy in Tehran. It also makes us think about what the Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa proposed recently with regards to a neighborhood association, which caused widespread controversy especially with regards to relations with Iran. Many people point out that Iran is interfering in the affairs of the regional states and is causing unrest is some areas, and is occupying the three UAE islands and refusing to even discuss the matter. There is also concern about the nuclear project based on the consideration that an Iranian nuclear bomb might be more of a threat to regional states than it is to Israel. However, despite the existence of all those issues or others, the question that continues to preoccupy many people in the region is: is it wise for there to a collective Arab absence of dialogue with Iran and to sit by and watch and wait for the outcome of the confrontation between the West and Tehran?
Despite the current severe crisis, the Western states, did not close the channels [of communication] with Tehran; in fact around two years ago America chose to sit at the negotiating table with the 5+1 group and Iran based on the idea that it can have more of an influence on the course of negotiations by attending than not attending. When the Obama administration came along, it extended a hand to Tehran, which caused concern at the time that Washington could move towards a settlement with Tehran and that that would come at the expense of regional states. Even when the Ahmadinejad government failed to respond [positively] to the Obama initiative, Washington kept the channels [of communication] open with regards to Tehran whether through Turkey or other parties.
Ankara succeeded at playing its cards whilst safeguarding its interests and it shifted its diplomacy to give it more influence inside and outside of the region by attempting to influence Tehran through the policy of communicating with it. This is what it did previously and it might do the same thing at a later stage in mediating between Syria and Israel. Turkish diplomacy decided that Iran is a neighboring state by virtue of geography and history and despite the disputes, rivalry and suspicions, it is able to influence Tehran’s decisions by communicating with it instead of isolating it or it becoming isolated knowing that Ankara fears the Iranian nuclear program just as much as the Arab world and the international community.
Will the Arabs be able to carry out something similar? In other words, would we be able to influence Tehran’s policies in the proposed framework of an association for “neighboring countries” or something else?
There is no guarantee of that, but the sessions around one table and raising issues face to face will at least help get the message across clearly if not contribute towards doing away with the increasing lack of trust. Moreover, the presence of Turkey within the formula of the neighborhood association will be in the interest of the Arab position especially regarding the nuclear file and the call for making the Middle East a region free of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Interests override feelings in politics, and if states lived captive to the disputes and battles of the past then there would have been no relations between most of the world’s countries.