The deal between Brazil, Iran and Turkey resembles one previously negotiated by the P-5 [AFP]
The drama over the nuclear deal signed by Brazil, Turkey and Iran demonstrates one thing above all: The bankruptcy of the current non-proliferation regime dominated by the nuclear weapons states.
Last Monday's announcement of Iran's agreement to ship roughly half of its current stockpile of low-enriched uranium to Turkey in return for 20 per cent enriched uranium fuel rods suitable for Tehran's research reactor came as an unwelcome surprise in the P-5 capitals - the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - despite the agreement's resemblance to one negotiated last October by those very nations.
The great powers' response was not long in coming. The following day, word emerged that the P-5, including the Russians and Chinese, had agreed on a draft Security Council resolution tightening, at least marginally, existing nuclear-related international sanctions on Iran.
The two processes were not necessarily in conflict. But lest anyone miss the point, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, was quick to release a statement: "This announcement is as convincing an answer to the efforts undertaken by Tehran over the last few days as any we could have taken."
The message from Clinton and the US could hardly have been clearer: 'We like the current P-5-led global non-proliferation regime just fine, thank you, and we don't need any credulous mid-level powers messing about with it.'
Rather than addressing the substance of what Brazil and Turkey were attempting to achieve, Washington - and by limited extension the rest of the P-5 - were implicitly suggesting that the fruit of their efforts was in fact due to effective manipulation on the part of Iran to avoid the looming specter of enhanced UN sanctions.
To be sure, the Tehran agreement is of limited utility.
It does not address the fundamentals of Iran's nuclear programme, nor does it do anything to enhance long-term international safeguards over Iranian nuclear activities consistent with its obligations under the 1970 Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) - of paramount concern given Tehran's past pattern of duplicitous behaviour.
The agreement is best considered a confidence-building measure, and one which would help buy further time for a more effective negotiated agreement; but that is precisely what could be said of the original swap agreement negotiated last year, before the Iranians decided to back out.
|The deal is a confidence-building measure that buys time for more negotiations [Reuters]
Far more significant than the details of Monday's agreement are the sentiments and principles which stand behind them - views which do not reside solely in Turkey and Brazil, but which are strongly shared by other emerging powers whose acceptance of, and complicity with, international non-proliferation efforts is critical to their long-term success.
Prominent among these non-aligned leaders are Egypt, Indonesia and South Africa.
It is worth noting that both Turkey and Egypt, in particular, have strong reasons to fear Iran's development of a nuclear weapon, which could threaten them directly and which would certainly have the effect of upsetting the power balance in their region.
Those fears are largely nullified, however, by the countervailing fear that efforts led by the US and the Western members of the nuclear weapons club ostensibly aimed at containing Iran would have the effect, whether intended or not, of creating precedents which would constrain their freedom to develop an independent nuclear power capability, albeit one under strict international inspections.
Indeed, the current tone and tenor of US-led efforts to strengthen international sanctions on Iran is increasing these fears among the nuclear have-nots.
By focusing almost exclusively on enforcement of current UN resolutions demanding the suspension of Iran's uranium-enrichment activities, Washington is exacerbating international fears that its real intent is to permanently proscribe nuclear enrichment in Iran under any and all circumstances.
In fact, the only justification for those UN resolutions is that they are designed to keep Iran from developing a complete nuclear fuel cycle capability in the absence of effective safeguards.
Washington would be doing itself and its allies a great favour if it would keep its eye on the ball: That is Iranian acceptance and full implementation of the Additional Protocol of the NPT - something all concerned and responsible powers could accept and work effectively for in the Iranian context.
I have long said that the primary problem with the current effort to impose and enforce effective safeguards on Iran's nuclear programme is not with its goals, but with who leads it: The P-5, plus Germany.
Why should those nations have an interest in policing Iran more compelling than that of the countries in the region - particularly those who, unlike Israel, lack a nuclear deterrent of their own?
In the view of many countries, their compulsion - albeit only partially shared by Russia and China - is based on their perceived interest in preserving their own nuclear weapons monopoly, a monopoly which permits them to dictate to others, and which therefore fundamentally undermines the credibility of the international non-proliferation regime they purport to champion.
Rather than seeking to thwart the efforts of the Brazils and Turkeys of the world, the US and the rest of the P-5 should seek to reassure them of their rights under the NPT and to engage them effectively in international negotiating efforts.
The emerging powers will not support the non-proliferation regime if they believe it works against their interests.
On the other hand, their solidarity in legitimate international efforts to control nuclear weapons - including a credible process of nuclear weapons reductions among the current weapons states - would confront the Iranians with a far more effective international coalition and, thus, a far more compelling rationale for responsible behaviour.
Robert Grenier was the CIA's chief of station in Islamabad, Pakistan, from 1999 to 2002. He was also the director of the CIA's counter-terrorism centre.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.