The administration of President Barack Obama has reacted skeptically to the nuclear swap accord signed Monday by Iran, Turkey, and Brazil, suggesting that Tehran would have to take significant additional steps to satisfy U.S. and Western demands to curb its nuclear program.
“We acknowledge the efforts that have been made by Turkey and Brazil,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement issued shortly after the signing announcement in Tehran.
“The United States will continue to work with our international partners, and through the United Nations Security Council, to make it clear to the Iranian government that it must demonstrate through deeds – and not simply words – its willingness to live up to international obligations or face consequences, including sanctions,” the statement warned.
The White House statement was echoed in part by a similar declaration by the European Union (EU).
“If Iran has now accepted the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] proposal, this is welcome, but it does not solve the fundamental problem, which is that the international community has serious concerns about the peaceful intention of the Iranian nuclear program,” said EU spokesperson Maya Kocijancic.
Independent experts, however, said the 10-point accord, which was signed by the foreign ministers of the three countries, was almost certain to throw a wrench into U.S.- and Western-led efforts to gain approval by the Security Council for a fourth round of sanctions against Tehran in the coming weeks.
Presuming that Tehran sticks to its commitments under the accord, Brazil and Turkey, both non-permanent members of the Council, are almost certain to vote against a sanctions resolution. That would give political cover for other members – possibly even China and Russia, neither of which has yet commented on the agreement – to cast a veto.
“There are those in Washington [but also in Paris and London] who were fully committed to passing a strong sanctions resolution in the United Nations Security Council next month, and this is a blow to them and all the intense diplomatic work they have done in the past five or six months,” wrote Gary Sick, a specialist at Columbia University who worked on Iran-related issues under former Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan.
“Clearly, it will be immensely more difficult, if not impossible, to get a sanctions resolution if this deal is on the table,” he added in his widely read blog.
Under the deal, which was brokered by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and is to be transmitted to the IAEA within the next week, Iran will ship 1,200 kg from its stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Turkey by the end of June in exchange for 120 kg of 20-percent enriched uranium that is to be used at the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) to produce medical isotopes.
The quantities included in the pending swap are the same as those proposed last October via the IAEA by the five permanent members of the Security Council – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, and China – and Germany (the P5+1).
Iran initially appeared to accept the proposal, only to equivocate when the accord came under attack both by opposition and more hard-line forces at home. Subsequent counter-offers by Tehran, such as phased transfers and basing the exchange on Iranian soil, were dismissed by the West.
Whether the new proposal will prove acceptable to the U.S. and its European allies is unclear. While 1,200 kg constituted nearly 70 percent of Tehran’s total estimated LEU stockpile last October, the same amount today makes up just over half its current estimated total of about 2,300 kg.
If the proposed swap took place now, that would leave in Iran’s possession significantly more LEU from which it could, at least theoretically, achieve “break-out capacity” given its current rate of enrichment activities. Thus, Washington may demand that the amount of LEU transferred to Turkey be increased as a condition of its approval.
Another potential problem lies with Tehran’s announcement earlier this year that it had already begun enriching small quantities of LEU to 20 percent for the TRR. If the new accord is implemented, the higher-enriched uranium would be imported from abroad, probably from France or Russia.
The agreement, however, fails to address whether Iran could continue enriching to 20 percent, and Iranian officials were quoted in the international press Monday as saying that such enrichment would indeed continue. According to experts, the West is almost certain to insist that such enrichment cease as a condition of its acceptance.
Both these issues – and others – may now be subject to additional negotiation between Iran and the P5+1 as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made clear in remarks at the opening session of the Group of 15 (G15) Monday.
“I hope the 5+1 enter talks with honesty, respect, and fairness and heed the great work started in Tehran,” he said. The foreign ministers’ communiqué itself “welcomed the decision of the Islamic Republic of Iran to continue as in the past their talks with 5+1 countries in Turkey on the common concerns based on collective commitments according to the common points of their proposals.”
That places the ball squarely in the West’s court, according to Sick. “If the West accepts the deal … and if a new round of negotiations begins – on both the nuclear and other major issues – then this could be a breakthrough. If the West turns it down, or if the two sides do not use it to negotiate some of the major issues that separate them, then nothing much will have been accomplished.”
Several factors, however, suggest that Washington and its allies are more likely to take this latest proposal seriously, if only because of the sponsorship and growing global influence of both Turkey, whose geo-strategic position is widely considered even more important than it was during the Cold War, and Brazil, which has Latin America’s strongest claim to a permanent seat on the Security Council. Both are also thriving democracies and members of the Group of 20 that have attracted considerable amounts of Western foreign investment.
In addition, the fact that Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, appeared to associate himself with the accord by meeting personally with da Silva will likely “make it more difficult to turn the deal into a domestic political football,” said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council.
“The higher levels of the [opposition] Green Movement,” he added, “may be okay seeing an issue like this going away…. They’re very frustrated with the fact that international attention has been focused entirely on nuclear issue and that the human rights situation has been neglected.”
At the same time, the Obama administration may now find itself in a delicate position with a Congress that has passed sweeping sanctions legislation of its own – mainly against third-country companies doing business with Iran – and has vowed to present the president with a unified bill by the end of May.
“The president has always said he wanted to see if diplomacy would yield results. If diplomacy has now yielded results, and we still go for sanctions, we’re going to have a lot of problems,” noted Parsi.
In its statement, the White House said it “remain[s] committed to a
diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear program, as part of the
P5+1 dual track approach, and will be consulting closely with our
partners on these developments going forward.”
(Inter Press Service)