By Pepe Escobar
As D-Day approached in Tehran, it was as if the whole world was watching a numbers game. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, on his way to Iran, said the chances of convincing the Islamic Republic to accept a nuclear fuel swap deal were close to 99%. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, after meeting with Lula in Moscow last Friday, said the chance was more like 33%. And the United States State Department, via Secretary Hillary Clinton, was all out pre-emptive, betting in fact on 0%.
Lula won the bet. If this was a football match - next month's World Cup will be followed by billions around the globe - the final result would be Brazil-Turkey 1, United States 0, with the golden goal struck in the final minute of extra time.
Welcome to the new axis of deals: Tehran-Brasilia-Ankara. This Monday in Tehran, Brazil, Turkey and Iran, via their foreign ministers, signed a groundbreaking nuclear fuel swap agreement according to which Iran will ship 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium at 3.5% to Turkey in exchange, after a maximum of one year, for 120 kg of 20%-enriched uranium to power the Tehran Research Reactor - everything supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran.
Lula described it as "a victory for diplomacy" - all the sweeter after American and Brazilian conservative media relentlessly trashed him for meddling into this high-stakes chess game. United Nations Security Council non-permanent members Brazil and Turkey - playing diplomacy - won against the United States (and its three European allies, France, Britain and Germany) playing confrontation. It was most of all a victory for the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) - the de facto, emerging, global counter-power to US hegemony.
Predictably, the Obama administration and Clinton in particular are bound to rehash the same old spin of Iran "failing" to keep its "commitments"; but that will not convince the real, developing world-heavy "international community" and will only (partially) appease Washington's powerful pro-infinite-war lobby.
How do you close a deal like this? Lula was very careful to stress that Brazil, acting as a mediator, always insisted on building "trust" in its evolving dialogue with Iran. Moreover, before arriving in Tehran this past weekend, Lula had spoken at length with all major players - the US, Russia, China and France.
In Tehran, Lula and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan - who flew in at the last minute - finally were able to "sell" the Brazil-Turkey joint proposal for a nuclear fuel swap to Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Supreme National Security Council secretary Saeed Jalili only after 18 hours of talks held behind closed doors on the sidelines of the Group of 15 summit. The key negotiators were Brazilian Foreign Minister Amorim, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.
Amorim said the deal "must be enough" to prevent a fourth Security Council round of sanctions against Iran, a Washington/Tel Aviv obsession; he stressed, "that is what other countries have always said, that it was necessary to have this agreement, the swap agreement, in order to continue the conversation".
For Amorim, the agreement is a "passport" for even more sizeable negotiations, making sure that Iran is able to exercise its "legitimate right" to pursue a civilian nuclear energy program. Turkey's Davutoglu said the ball was now in the IAEA's court; "Iran will write a letter to the IAEA, and we hope that the IAEA in Vienna will react quickly and positively, so that there will be a result in a very short period of time." He added, "There is no need for sanctions now that we [Turkey and Brazil] have made guarantees and the low-enriched uranium will remain in Turkey." Medvedev, although more guarded in his reaction, lauded the Brazil-Turkey effort and extensively discussed details of the deal with Lula over the phone.
Enrich me, baby
The agreement is only relatively similar to the proposal by the "Iran Six" group (the five Security Council permanent members plus Germany) in October 2009 in Geneva. At the time, Russia and France would come up with the enrichment. Tehran, not satisfied with the guarantees, advanced other possibilities. There was no mutual trust. Negotiations broke down. Now the novelty is the Turkish engagement - a result of the common Brazil-Turkey mediation strategy.
The naysayers' choir is already louder than Metallica. Predictably, the announcement by Tehran that regardless of the deal it would continue to enrich uranium at 20% in its own territory anyway is leading the US and Israel to discredit the whole operation. Brazilian diplomacy considers their critique to be extremely flawed - stressing instead this was the first time Iran had actually agreed to send its own nuclear fuel abroad for enrichment.
The French and the Germans - echoing Washington - already insist the Brazil-Turkey mediation success will not prevent Iran from reaching an overall agreement with the IAEA. The Western axis is actually obsessed with preventing Iran from developing any uranium enrichment in its own territory - something that goes against the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) itself.
There's no evidence, certified once again by the IAEA this spring, that Iranian nuclear material at the Natanz plant has been diverted to a weapons program. There's no evidence Iran is attempting to enrich uranium at 95%, as part of a nuclear weapons program. None of this will prevent Washington from deviating from its rush towards a fourth round of Security Council sanctions. It doesn't matter that the votes are not there - and will never be there.
The 10-point, detailed declaration on the nuclear swap deal, read by Mottaki at a press conference in Tehran, is not getting and will not get much play in Western corporate media; but it reaffirms Iran's commitment to the NPT, recognized by both Brazil and Turkey; and characterizes the agreement as "a starting point to begin cooperation".
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, not immune to playing to the global South galleries, remarked after meeting Lula that the US was so keen on trying to pre-empt the Brazilian effort because it could not bear the sight of "two independent countries", Brazil and Turkey, acting like top diplomatic powers.
What may have happened is that the BRICs, plus Turkey, in a concerted effort these past few weeks, have made it very clear to the Iranian leadership that without any sort of agreement the US would keep on pushing for more and more crippling sanctions - and everyone knows what happened to Iraq in 2003.
So both Khamenei and Ahmadinejad seem to have got the message. But the key was still to find a deal that preserved Iranian dignity. Lula is right; the operative concept is "trust". Will Washington and its allies bow to the evidence? Or will they insist on playing a loser's game?