Why Brazil and Turkey's nuclear deal with Iran is worse than useless.

Military analysis.
June 11 2010 3:21 PM

Are Brazil and Turkey Delusional or Deceptive?

Why their nuclear deal with Iran is worse than useless.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Click image to expand.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan 

At first glance, it may seem that Brazil and Turkey had good reasons to oppose the U.N. Security Council's sanctions against Iran and to push instead for a diplomatic solution that they'd already negotiated.

Fred Kaplan Fred Kaplan

Fred Kaplan is the author of The Insurgents and the Edward R. Murrow press fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

At second glance, however, the reason is clearly a sham. The only question is whether the Brazilian and Turkish leaders are delusional or up to no good.


Back in October 2009, the United States and Russia, still pursuing a diplomatic solution to the emerging Iranian nuclear crisis, offered Tehran a deal: Send Russia 1,200 kilograms of its low-enriched uranium; Russia will enrich it still further and send it back in a form that can be used only for medical reactors or electrical power, not for building A-bombs.

The deal was designed as a test: If the Iranians accepted it, that would mean they really were enriching uranium for peaceful purposes, as they'd been claiming. If they rejected it, that would suggest their goal was military, as much of the rest of the world suspected.

In May 2010, just as President Barack Obama was working up a U.N. Security Council resolution on sanctions, Turkey and Brazil suddenly announced that they'd put the old U.S.-Russia deal back on the table during talks with Iran—and this time Iran accepted. Diplomacy, they proclaimed, had worked; there'd be no need for sanctions after all.

But the Obama administration dismissed the deal and continued its own talks with Moscow and Beijing to punish Iran's military establishment, which culminated, on June 9, in a 12-to-2 vote in favor of sanctions—with only Turkey and Brazil opposing the measure. (Lebanon, another temporary member of the Security Council, abstained.)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his two new friends loudly wondered why this deal, nearly identical to the one that Obama had initiated just seven months earlier, was now considered unacceptable.

Here's why:

Back in October, Iran had only 1,500 kilograms of low-enriched uranium; sending 1,200 kilograms to Russia would have meant unloading four-fifths of its stockpile. Over the next seven months, the centrifuges kept spinning to the point where, by the time of the Brazil-Turkey talks, Iran had 2,300 kilograms.

In other words, the U.S.-Russia deal would have allowed Iran to keep only one-fifth of its uranium stockpile; the Brazil-Turkey deal would let Iran keep nearly half. More troubling, the Brazil-Turkey deal would let Iran continue enriching the uranium it kept—and, over the previous seven months, it had already been enriching quite a bit of it.