Iran and Turkey reach unexpected accord on enriched uranium

Iran has agreed to ship most of its enriched uranium to Turkey, in a nuclear fuel swap that could ease the crisis over the country's disputed nuclear programme. Turkey says the deal removes the need for further UN sanctions.
By Glenn Kessler and Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Iran reached a surprise nuclear agreement with Brazil and Turkey on Monday, a deal that threatens to undermine the Obama administration's efforts to stem the Iranians' nuclear ambitions -- and, more broadly, the U.S. diplomatic strategy.

The deal revives a concept first broached by the administration last year. Iran will send part of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to Turkey for safekeeping, possibly within a month, in exchange for enough higher-enriched uranium to fuel a 42-year-old, U.S.-built research reactor that produces medical isotopes.

Iran will not, however, halt its uranium enrichment or enter into substantive negotiations on its program.

Analysts say Iran has effectively created the illusion of progress in nuclear negotiations with the West without offering what the United States and its allies have long demanded. As a result, the Obama administration now faces the uncomfortable prospect of rejecting a proposal it offered nearly eight months ago -- or seeing months of effort to enact new sanctions derailed.

If the United States presses ahead with a sanctions resolution in the United Nations, Brazil and Turkey might decide to vote against it, undercutting U.S. officials' desire for international unity on Iran's nuclear ambitions.

The new deal widens a divide between a group of countries led by the United States on the one hand and some developing nations on the other over the right of Iran and other developing countries to use nuclear energy.

Countries such as Brazil and Turkey, but also Egypt and Indonesia, increasingly view the Western-led debate over Iran's nuclear program as an important test case for their own nuclear ambitions. Though the United States and its allies say they fear nuclear proliferation, some developing nations say that world powers are determined to control nuclear technology and want to prevent the development of independent nuclear energy programs.

In announcing the new deal, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said that Iran has a right to a "full nuclear fuel cycle, including enrichment," and condemned any new sanctions.

"This plan is a route for dialogue and takes away any grounds for sanctions," Amorim told reporters. In an earlier interview, he said that it is time for the West to come to terms with the fact that Iran has a nuclear program. Iran was previously confronted by "Western countries with nuclear weapons," he noted. "Why were Indonesia, Mexico or Brazil not involved?"

Brazil and Turkey, which were represented by their presidents in the talks, invested significant diplomatic cache in the talks. Non-permanent members of the Security Council rarely intervene in a process led by nuclear powers, and in many ways the result could be seen as a revolt by smaller powers over the rights to nuclear power and prestige.

The new agreement is based on a proposal that Iran had agreed to in October after talks with the United States, France and Russia. That plan was originally intended as a confidence-building measure that, in effect, would have paused the Iranian program and allowed for international talks to proceed. It also was intended to prevent Iran from trying produce the more highly enriched uranium itself.

Iran later backed out of the deal, saying it could not trust Russia or France to return its fuel.

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