Firstly, is this a blow to Obama? I'd say "yes" -- especially based on the fact that the Turkish-Brazilian deal is nearly identical to one offered by the US eight months ago. Iran pointedly spurned that advance, and equally pointedly accepted this one -- it's a direct snub: "we'll work with others, but not with you." There's that much squandered political capital now. But Turkey has taken an interesting position, claiming that Obama set the stage for the deal:
Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, however, credited Mr Obama’s policy of engaging with Tehran for Ankara’s success in pursuing a diplomatic solution. “[Obama] paved the way for this process,” Mr Davutoglu said during a news conference in Istanbul. Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had been “encouraged” to pursue dialogue with Tehran by Mr Obama during a recent, high-level nuclear conference in New York...But Obama's relationship with his Secretary of State has always been fraught, and I wonder what the real channels of communication were here.
Publicly, Ms Clinton, had taken an opposite approach. She phoned Mr Davutoglu last Friday, apparently seeking their intervention and later predicted that they would fail in their efforts to work out a deal.
Meanwhile, it seems not insignificant that Turkey has been in the limelight on the issue, with Brazil largely taking a back seat. Does that spell better relations with Europe? Turkey certainly appears to be angling to be seen as a Euro-style negotiator, and is positioning itself strongly within the context of European (not American) diplomatic history:
Throughout modern history, there has been a direct relationship between conflict and the emergence of new ways of arbitrating world affairs. Every major war since the 17th century was concluded by a treaty that led to the emergence of a new order, from the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 that followed the Thirty Years' War, to the Congress of Vienna of 1814-1815 that brought an end to the Napoleonic Wars, to the ill-fated Treaty of Versailles that concluded the first World War, to the agreement at Yalta that laid the groundwork for the establishment of the United Nations in 1945. Yet the Cold War, which could be regarded as a global-scale war, ended not with grand summitry, but with the fall of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of the Soviet Union. There was no official conclusion; one of the combatant sides just suddenly ceased to exist.It is saddening that the US hasn't continued to act as the liberal arbiter of the new world order -- we've largely ceded leadership in the UN, and the EU has really picked up the brunt of multilateral negotiations and diplomacy. As we increasingly depend on military linkages with other nations, our diplomacy should be bulked up rather than pared down.
Two decades hence, no new international legal and political system has been formally created to meet the challenges of the new world order that emerged. Instead, a number of temporary, tactical, and conflict-specific agreements have been implemented. From the Nagorno-Karabakh region to Cyprus, and even the deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian dispute, a series of cease-fire arrangements have succeeded in ending bloodshed but have failed to establish comprehensive peace agreements. Overall, the current situation has quantitatively increased the diversification of international actors and qualitatively complicated the foreign-policy making process.
Finally, whither sanctions? It would be fair to argue that given this newfound Iranian amenability, threats of sanctions can now be dropped. Of course, that assumes Tehran is being honest in its dealings -- a suspect supposition regardless. But the US is apparently arguing that this deal really isn't all that important:
Susan Rice, US ambassador to the UN, said Wednesday that the sanctions resolution “has nothing to do with” the proposed fuel-swap deal, which she compared to a “confidence-building measure” that the US and other powers proposed to Iran last fall.
In a statement on a telephone conversation Wednesday between President Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the White House said the president “acknowledged the efforts of Turkey and Brazil.” But Mr. Obama also informed the prime minister that negotiations on the new resolution “will continue” because of “concerns about Iran’s overall nuclear program” and its continuing failure to meet its “international obligations.”
The new tack amounts to an argument in favor of additional sanctions, some nuclear experts say, because it is saying that it’s the heat from all sides that is forcing Iran to respond to the international community.