WASHINGTON – An absence of political will is all that blocks the international community from reaching a peaceful resolution to the rapidly escalating crisis over Iran’s nuclear program, Turkey’s top diplomat said on Friday (see GSN, Feb. 10).
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told an audience here that the technical details for a deal to resolve Western worries about the feared nuclear-weapon implications of Tehran’s atomic activities had already been worked out during a 2010 round of talks.
He was apparently referring to a May 2010 deal reached by Iran, Turkey, and Brazil that would send 1,200 kilograms of Iranian low-enriched uranium to Turkey in exchange for medical reactor fuel refined by other nations (see GSN, May 17, 2010).
The intent of sending away Iran’s low-enriched uranium -- defined as having an enrichment level below 20 percent -- is to assuage concerns that the nation could stockpile enough nuclear material to refine further for use in a nuclear weapon before a lasting resolution could be reached to the atomic impasse.
Tehran has consistently denied it has any ambitions of building a warhead. A November 2011 International Atomic Energy Agency report found reason for “serious concerns” that Iran is illicitly pursuing a nuclear-weapon capability (see GSN, Nov. 9, 2011).
“The problem is not a technical problem,” Davutoglu said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The technicalities of the nuclear issue could be resolved in a few days.”
Negotiators from Turkey and the P-5+1 states -- China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – in January 2011 last gathered in Istanbul to revisit options for addressing nuclear-weapon concerns. The nations considered a deal that would exchange Iranian low-enriched uranium for medial reactor fuel (see GSN, Jan. 21, 2011).
“Technical details are so easy to be solved,” the Turkish envoy said. “The problem is, there is no strong political will and … there is an absence of mutual trust and confidence.”
Davutoglu said Tehran must consider domestic public opinion that is divided on the wisdom of pursuing the current confrontational approach on the nuclear standoff, which has resulted in stinging international sanctions that have apparently left the country unable to pay for some basic food staples.
“So a possible deal should satisfy Iranian domestic public opinion,” he said.
On the other side, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has been “working very hard” to satisfy the conditions set by each of the six world powers for a nuclear deal with Iran, Davutoglu said.
“I can say, if two negotiators come together with full mandate, it could be resolved,” the foreign minister said.
He asserted that a deal to send 1,800 kilograms of Iranian low-enriched uranium to Turkey would resolve international concerns. Earlier deals would have had Iran surrender 1,200 kilograms of LEU material. However, since Tehran has continued to enrich uranium in the interim, Europe and the United States are now calling for any compromise deal to include a greater amount of Iranian uranium (see GSN, Oct. 27, 2010).
Iran has never publicly said it accepts these calls for a larger amount of LEU material to be sent away. Tehran has said it is enriching uranium to 20 percent levels – a threshold point after which it becomes much quicker to refine uranium to the 90 percent levels required to fuel a warhead.
Should Iran surrender enough LEU material to leave no doubt that it has any left to further enrich to warhead-levels and halts all enrichment to 20 percent levels, then “this is a full guarantee and assurance that there cannot be a military technology to develop,” Davutoglu said.
“These issues could be discussed if there is a strong political view and mutual trust,” he continued.
The key to resolving the nuclear dispute, Davutoglu asserted, is to conduct regular discussions rather than convening one round of talks, then adjourning for six months or a year -- something that allows developing regional concerns such as the Arab Spring revolutions to sidetrack participants from reaching a lasting deal.
“One session, put everything on the table,” he said. “I can assure you, everything will be resolved.”
“I told both sides, stay in Istanbul, like the pope, stay in one room; discuss everything, then you can go,” the minister said, referring to the tradition by which Catholic cardinals go into seclusion until they have elected a new pope.
Davutoglu in January traveled to Tehran, where he called for another round of multinational talks. Both Iran and Ashton have agreed on the need for new negotiations. “We are now – in these days we are working for a time, venue for the next round of talks” (see GSN, Jan. 20).
While Istanbul has complied with four U.N. Security Council sanctions targeting Iran’s nuclear program, it does not support additional penalties against the nation. Turkey has said it will not follow a recent EU move to cut off all Iranian oil imports.
“For Turkey, our position is clear. We don’t want to have any military nuclear power in our region,” Davutoglu said. “At the same time, we don’t want any limitations regarding the development of peaceful nuclear technology.”
He also strongly urged against the launching of any preemptive military strike by Israel on Iran’s atomic facilities.
“I am telling you here, military strike is a disaster. It … should not be an option. Especially in this historic turning point in our region, we don’t want to see such another huge tension, because it is not just a regional tension,” Davutoglu said.
“It is not reasonable. It is not feasible.”