Why Does Iran See Turkey as an 'Honest Broker' for a Nuclear Deal?

The uranium transfer deal transforms Iran and Turkey into strategic allies without undermining Turkey's standing in the West.

If all goes well, a truck from Iran, guarded by Iranian and Turkish security personnel and International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, will make its way to an undisclosed location in Turkey. The truck will carry part of the 1.2 tons of uranium enriched to a level of 3.5 percent that will be stored in Turkey.

Under the terms of the deal reached in Tehran Sunday night, Turkey will not just be the uranium's custodian; it will also be the trustee and supervisor who will decide whether Iran and the five permanent Security Council members have met their obligations under the agreement. Turkey promised to immediately and unconditionally return the enriched uranium to Iran if the countries that are slated to provide Iran with nuclear fuel do not keep their end of the bargain.

Credit for the agreement is shared by Turkey and Brazil. The latter granted Iran a series of trade deals that are expected to increase bilateral trade between their countries to about $10 billion.

Nevertheless, Turkey is the deal's big winner. Trade between Iran and Turkey already stands at $10 billion annually, so if sanctions were imposed on Tehran, Turkey would suffer a massive blow to its economy - and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's party would suffer a major political setback. Alternatively, should Turkey decide not to uphold the sanctions, it might find itself in a crisis with the United States and Europe. Hence the tremendous effort Turkey made to achieve the deal, despite American warnings that Iran might be using Turkey in order to buy time.

Why did Iran choose to see Turkey as an "honest broker" and make the deal with it instead of with the permanent Security Council members? The two countries' good relations are not free of suspicion, but both Iran and Turkey have adopted a policy of expanding their influence in the Middle East, influence of the sort that relies on cooperation rather than competition.

The closer ties between Turkey and Syria, Iran's ally; the similar attitude that Turkey and Iran have toward Hamas; their shared interests in Iraq; and a similar view of radical Islamic terrorism all combined with Turkey's disappointment over European views of its candidacy to join the European Union to create a confluence of interests that, for the time being, trumps their disagreements. Moreover, from an ideological standpoint, Iran prefers Turkey to the U.S.: Any concession to Washington or its Security Council partners would be perceived as a surrender.

The uranium transfer deal transforms Iran and Turkey into strategic allies without undermining Turkey's standing as a NATO member or as a U.S. ally in Afghanistan. It was also not conditioned on Turkey severing its ties with Israel. And if the deal surmounts all the expected obstacles, Turkey will gain new status as a mediator, a status it will also be able to use in other conflicts in the region, and especially in the Israeli-Syrian peace process.

If instead, the deal collapses and sanctions are imposed on Iran, Turkey will still be remembered as the one that nearly succeeded in reaching a deal. But then, it will have to deal with the consequences of the sanctions.