The consequences of diplomacy

As Iran moves inexorably toward the creation of a viable nuclear weapons program recent developments continue to prove that alliances can be bought and sold in the world of diplomacy. Unfortunately, the costs of such alliances are often greater than the outcomes they are intended to produce. While United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently announced the forward movement of multilateral UN backed sanctions against Iran, one must consider what tangible effect these sanctions will ultimately have in deterring Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and equally important the question of at what cost to long-term U.S. security interests such sanctions will be obtained.

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced this week his intention to enter into an agreement with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan that would allow for the shipment of low-enriched uranium (LEU) from Iran to Turkey. That uranium would in turn be enriched to higher levels, ostensibly for use in a medical research reactor, and subsequently shipped back to Iran. Having previously rejected a similar proposal offered by the United Nations, Iran’s actions appear to be a transparent effort at stalling the imposition of further UN backed sanctions.

What the agreement between Iran, Brazil, and Turkey does not do is prohibit Iran from continuing to further enrich uranium on its own. This caveat within the agreement renders it largely cosmetic and incapable of instilling any confidence within the global community that Iran is abandoning its pursuit of nuclear weapons. This reality led to Secretary Clinton’s declaration that all five permanent members of the UN Security Council had agreed on pursuing further sanctions against Iran.

Unfortunately, irrespective of what those sanctions ultimately include they are unlikely to forestall Iran’s movement toward becoming a nuclear state. Sanctioning Iran’s importation of refined gasoline products, freezing the assets of members of the Revolutionary Guard, and increasing cargo ship inspections may prove to be an annoyance to Ahmadinejad’s government but it will not prevent Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Such sanctions may simply have the unintended consequence of moving commerce onto the black market, driving internal costs higher but also serving as a potential conduit by which the Iranian government can direct the ire and suffering of its people toward the West and thus away from itself.