Four days before the announcement, on 13 May, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had a telephone conversation with his counterpart Hillary Clinton. Two days after that, on Saturday, they met, just before Davutoglu went to Tehran.
Hours later, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan --- who had cancelled his own trip to Iran on the Friday --- reversed course. He set aside a visit to Azerbaijan and flew to Tehran.
So what happened in the high-letter US-Turkey encounters just before the IBT agreement? According to the State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley:
During the call [on 13 May], the Secretary stressed that, in our view, Iran’s recent diplomacy was an attempt to stop Security Council action without actually taking steps to address international concerns about its nuclear program.
There’s nothing new and nothing encouraging in Iran’s recent statements. It has failed to demonstrate good faith and build confidence with the international community, which was the original intent of the Tehran research reactor proposal. It has yet to formally respond to the IAEA.
She [Clinton] stressed that the burden is with Iran and its lack of seriousness about engagement requires us to intensify efforts to apply greater pressure on Iran. Now, that was the primary purpose of the conversation. They briefly touched on other subjects, including Middle East peace and the relationship between Turkey and Azerbaijan.
Throughout the question-and-answer session, Crowley was giving the message: Iran was not going to give up its own enrichment of 20-percent uranium and so there was still the "urgent" need for sanctions as a result of the dual policy towards Iran. Translated, Washington said that there would be no unclenched fist extended to Iran as long as Israel's protests over Tehran's nuclear programme and the regional contest for influence continued.
Iran has been very busy in recent weeks having conversations with a range of countries. Part of that conversation did occur last week in the dinner in New York. And not only – during the conversation in New York, not only did Iran not offer any new, Foreign Minister Mottaki indicated during the dinner that notwithstanding any potential agreement on the Tehran research reactor, they would continue to enrich uranium to 20 percent, which we –-- which is of great concern to us and violates their obligations under the IAEA.
So they had initially, when they announced they were going to enrich uranium to 20 percent, they claimed at the time that it was for the Tehran research reactor, but it’s obviously part of a broader agenda. And that’s what we are concerned about. That’s why we continue to pursue the sanctions resolution as part of our pressure track.
When asked whether Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's expected visit to Tehran was a "last opportunity", Crowley said:
Well, I mean, we are –-- we continue to move forward on a sanctions resolution, and we have a sense of urgency about this. We want to get this done as quickly as possible. But our view remains that we are doubtful that Iran is going to change course absent the kind of significant pressure that comes with a resolution and the consequences that come with them.
Then, when he was asked whether the State Department gave Davutoglu any red lines that Turkey should not cross, Crowley replied:
Regarding the TRR [the Tehran Research Reactor], it [a proposal for "third country enrichment"] was put on the table last fall to build confidence with the international community about the true intentions of Iran’s nuclear program. We have drawn conclusions from Iran’s failure to even respond –-- much less engage constructively –-- even respond to the proposal formally to the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency].
[Clinton] stressed to Foreign Minister Davutoglu again today that it’s not about the public statements that Iran makes. If Iran wishes to engage in –-- regarding the TRR, come up with alternatives that meet the fundamental intent of the proposal, then they can pick up the phone and call the IAEA, which is something they have failed to do.
Following the announcement of the IBT agreement, Crowley restated the reasons for an "urgent" sanctions draft:
In the statement, the White House acknowledged the efforts made by Turkey and Brazil and now called upon the IAEA to clearly and authoritatively convey the results of this arrangement to the IAEA. That said, the United States continues to have concerns about the arrangement. The joint declaration does not address the core concerns of the international community.
Iran remains in defiance of five UN Security Council resolutions, including its unwillingness to suspend enrichment operations. In fact, today Iran reaffirmed that it plans to continue to enrich uranium to 20 percent despite the fact that it previously justified this increased enrichment as for the Tehran research reactor. So public statements today suggest that the TRR deal is unrelated to it ongoing enrichment activity. In fact, they are integrally linked.
And then Crowley became very coy and even deceptive about how much Washington knew of the Turkish and Brazilian efforts:
I think we had conversations with Foreign Minister Amorim and Foreign Minister Davutoglu prior to their arrival in Tehran. I’m not aware of any specific contacts with them over the weekend.
But, setting aside Crowley's public spin, did the US know in advance of Erdogan's sudden decision to go to Iran? Most likely, Washington did not anticipate that the diplomatic efforts were moving towards an agreement, leading to the Turkish Prime Minister's change of plans. Ankara had made a decision: the benefits of a joint proposal with Iran and Brazil meant that it would exert autonomy and risk the US reaction.
Now the question is "What will Turkey will do in the UN?" This week, Erdogan wrote a letter to President Obama, saying that Ankara had opened the door slightly for a resolutio. Now the ball was in Washington's court.
In other words: "We did our part (and gained diplomatic and political advantage from doing so). You want to mess up this agreement with sanctions, so be it --- although don't expect us to vote for the resolution in the Security Council.
"We've got our ties with the US, which we value. But we also have our economic and political ties with Tehran."