The Iranian nuclear "deal" announced on May 17 is an exceedingly odd one: It includes only one of the parties to the underlying dispute. The United States and its European partners are now in an uncomfortable jam.
The fuel-swap deal agreed to (Guardian) last October--before Iran scuttled it (AFP)--was never intended to solve the nuclear problem brought on by Iran's insistence on developing a uranium enrichment program (which gives it the option of building a nuclear arsenal). The goal was to jumpstart diplomatic negotiations while building mutual confidence. This new plan may do the former (though neither Iran nor anyone else has promised to return to the table), but it will not do the latter.
Iran says that it will continue to enrich uranium to 20 percent, in flagrant violation of UN Security Council demands, helping strengthen its ability to covertly produce highly enriched uranium. And the way the "deal" has been announced--it is designed to squeeze the United States by making it look like the bad guy if it says no--certainly will not build any confidence.
The announcement, made by Brazil and Turkey, †obviously complicates (Politico) efforts to impose a new round of sanctions on Iran. It also signals problems for the ongoing NPT Review Conference. The United States and its allies would (reasonably) like an agreement that states in violation of the NPT be barred from trade in sensitive technologies. But the announcement affirms a "right of all State Parties, including the Islamic Republic of Iran, to develop research, production, and use of nuclear energy (as well as nuclear fuel cycle including enrichment activities) for peaceful purposes without discrimination." This augurs poorly for Brazilian cooperation on any enrichment constraints.
The right choice for the United States may ultimately involve welcoming the announced fuel swap. But the political difference between this and the deal that was struck last October is stark. No one should breathe easier about the Iranian program as a result.