Iran Nuclear Talks in Istanbul: Greatest Beneficiary is Turkish Tourism

By BARIN KAYAOĞLU

January 25, 2011

The city of Istanbul needs no detailed introduction: It served as capital to the Roman, Eastern Roman, and Ottoman empires for nearly 2,000 yearsand it is the only city to span two continents. Nevertheless, I’m grateful to the P5+1 group and the Iranian government for their choice of Istanbul as host for the nuclear talks and the publicity that the city received. It will be good for tourism.

But the latest round of talks achieved little other than helping Istanbul’s publicity and an agreement to meet again soon. The talks between Iran and the P5+1 (the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany) went nowhere this time for the same reason that they went nowhere before: The two sides keep insisting on the same things. Thanks (!) to UN Security Council resolutions (especially Res. 1929 of last summer), the international community keeps pushing Iran to suspend uranium enrichment to have the sanctions lifted. The Iranians tell the world that they would never discuss their right to enrich uranium and add that, for the negotiations to move forward, the sanctions have to be lifted first. It reminds me of the following sketch by the Turkish cartoonist Erdil Yaşaroğlu:

Elephant: "Don't bite!" --- Alligator: "Don't blow!"

Although reports indicate that the Iranian government is no longer interested in a fuel swap, exchanging Iran’s enriched uranium for ready-to-use fuel rods is still a good idea. This can be done in several ways: The Iranians and the IAEA can exchange “the goods” at a neutral location (say, Dubai) at regular intervals. Similarly, a constant chain to maintain an outflow of raw uranium and inflow of nuclear fuel can be established. Under this plan, Iran’s enriched uranium would get stored in a third location (most likely Turkey) while France and/or Russia would provide Iran with the fuel rods. In turn, Iran would turn over the spent fuel to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in order to avoid re-usage (spent uranium can be reprocessed to produce plutonium, also a bomb material).

Once the two sides gain some trust for each other, the United Nations Security Council can lift some of the sanctions against Iran. In return, Tehran can agree to open all of its nuclear facilities to IAEA inspections. If the IAEA confirms that the Iranian nuclear program is “clean” (i.e., no bombs), the rest of the sanctions can be lifted.

And since the international community is so concerned about Iran’s nuclear program and the future of nuclear proliferation, it would be wise to lead by example. To that end, the United States and Russia, which have just re-established a nuclear arms reduction regime with “New START,” should push other nuclear-weapon states to reduce their nuclear stockpiles as well. It’s time to expand nuclear arms reduction to Britain, France, and China while putting pressure on Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea to abandon their nukes.

Do I sound too unrealistic? Maybe that’s because I’m more transfixed by Istanbul’s beauty than I’m frustrated by the slow pace of multilateral diplomacy.

Come visit Istanbul.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com).

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