Major Deal Agreed on Tehran Uranium
by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles
17 May 2010 23:37
Tripartite negotiations yield agreement reflecting all crucial elements of U.N. plan.
[ comment ] Iran, Turkey, and Brazil announced Monday, May 17, that they have reached an agreement under which Iran will send most of its stock of low-enriched uranium (LEU), which is enriched at 3.5 percent, to Turkey to be stored and safeguarded there by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In return for the transfer of 1,200 kg of LEU, Iran will receive 120 kg of uranium fuel rods, enriched at 19.75 percent, for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). The TRR produces medical isotopes for approximately 850,000 patients. Its fuel, supplied by Argentina, will be finished in about a year. The LEU will be considered Iran's property until it receives the fuel for the TRR.
Brazil's leftist President Luiz Inàcio Lula da Silva announced a few weeks ago that he would travel to Tehran to help resolve the standoff between Iran and the United States and its allies. Although the talks were supposed to involve Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he was at first cautious. Last Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that Erdogan would not travel to Iran unless the administration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was ready to make a deal. "The matter is not just to hold a three-way meeting," he said. "We want to get results if such a meeting is to be held." The next day, Erdogan said that his planned trip to Tehran was "no longer possible for me, as Iran has not taken that step on the issue."
The United States appeared unhappy with the mediation by Turkey and Brazil, both currently non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Davutoglu last Friday and tried to persuade him to abandon the the initiative. She publicly predicted that the three-way effort effort would fail, declaring, "Every step of the way has demonstrated clearly to the world that Iran is not participating in the international arena in the way that we had asked them to do." But it appears that while Clinton was making this statement, her boss, President Barack Obama, had quietly encouraged Turkey to proceed.
Once it appeared that a deal was possible, a Turkish delegation rushed to Tehran. Intense negotiations took place between the three parties, with Iran's side led by Ahmadinejad, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, and chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili. President da Silva called the resulting agreement a "victory for diplomacy."
The official text of the statement announcing the agreement follows:
Having met in Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran, the undersigned have agreed on the following declaration:
1. We reaffirm our commitment to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and in accordance with the related articles of the NPT, recall the right of all State Parties, including the Islamic Republic of Iran, to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy (as well as nuclear fuel cycle including enrichment activities) for peaceful purposes without discrimination.
2. We express our strong conviction that we have the opportunity now to begin a forward looking process that will create a positive, constructive, non-confrontational atmosphere leading to an era of interaction and cooperation.
3. We believe that the nuclear fuel exchange is instrumental in initiating cooperation in different areas, especially with regard to peaceful nuclear cooperation including nuclear power plant and research reactors construction.
4. Based on this point the nuclear fuel exchange is a starting point to begin cooperation and a positive constructive move forward among nations. Such a move should lead to positive interaction and cooperation in the field of peaceful nuclear activities replacing and avoiding all kinds of confrontation through refraining from measures, actions and rhetorical statements that would jeopardize Iran's rights and obligations under the NPT.
5. Based on the above, in order to facilitate the nuclear cooperation mentioned above, the Islamic Republic of Iran agrees to deposit 1200 kg LEU in Turkey. While in Turkey this LEU will continue to be the property of Iran. Iran and the IAEA may station observers to monitor the safekeeping of the LEU in Turkey.
6. Iran will notify the IAEA in writing through official channels of its agreement with the above within seven days following the date of this declaration. Upon the positive response of the Vienna Group (US, Russia, France and the IAEA) further details of the exchange will be elaborated through a written agreement and proper arrangement between Iran and the Vienna Group that specifically committed themselves to deliver 120 kg of fuel needed for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR).
7. When the Vienna Group declares its commitment to this provision, then both parties would commit themselves to the implementation of the agreement mentioned in item 6. Islamic Republic of Iran expressed its readiness to deposit its LEU (1200 kg) within one month. On the basis of the same agreement the Vienna Group should deliver 120 kg fuel required for TRR in no later than one year.
8. In case the provisions of this Declaration are not respected Turkey, upon the request of Iran, will return swiftly and unconditionally Iran's LEU to Iran.
9. We welcome the decision of the Islamic Republic of Iran to continue as in the past their talks with the 5+1 countries in Turkey on the common concerns based on collective commitments according to the common points of their proposals.
10. Turkey and Brazil appreciated Iran's commitment to the NPT and its constructive role in pursuing the realization of nuclear rights of its member states. The Islamic Republic of Iran likewise appreciated the constructive efforts of the friendly countries Turkey and Brazil in creating the conducive environment for realization of Iran's nuclear rights.
Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu said the new deal meant Iran was willing to "open a constructive road. There is no ground left for more sanctions or pressure." The agreement appears to be nearly identical to a U.N.-drafted plan that the United States and its allies have been pressing Iran to accept since October 2009. They have expressed the fear that Iran would accumulate enough LEU to enrich to the 90 percent level needed to produce a nuclear weapon, despite the absence of any evidence that the Islamic Republic intends such production.
It remains to be seen whether Washington and its allies will declare satisfaction with the Tehran agreement, even though Tehran appears to have given up several of its original demands for the nuclear exchange. The deputy spokesman for Germany's right-wing government, Christoph Steegmans, stated, "The key question is whether the agreement fulfills the demands that the U.N. and the International Atomic Energy Agency has made of Tehran," which includes the suspension of all uranium enrichment activity. Along with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Germany is a member of the 5+1.
However, suspension of Iran's uranium enrichment program was not part of the fuel exchange deal reached between Iran, the IAEA, and the 5+1 group in October 2009. In fact, the main goal of the fuel swap has been to reduce tensions between Iran and the West, as Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium has been growing, albeit at a much slower pace than neoconservative alarmists and Israel's lobby in the United States have claimed. At present, suspension of its uranium enrichment program is considered a red line by Iran.
Iran gave up its earlier demands that the swap be simultaneous and take place in Tehran. It had also demanded that the exchange take place in several stages, rather than all at once. The only major difference between the announced agreement and last October's is that the new one stipulates that if Iran does not receive the fuel rods for the TRR within a year, Turkey must return the LEU.
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said, "Let's not be duped by this. A solution for the medical reactor, while necessary, would in no way resolve the problem posed by the Iranian nuclear program. The exchange of uranium that is envisaged amounts to a confidence gesture, a side issue." French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said that the IAEA must be the first body to respond to the agreement, a sentiment also expressed by German spokesman Steegmans, who declared, "It of course remains important that Iran and the IAEA reach an accord. That cannot be replaced by an accord with other countries."
In London, Alistair Burt, a junior minister in the British Foreign Office, said, "Iran's actions remain a serious cause for concern, in particular its refusal to meet for discussions of its nuclear program, or cooperate fully with the IAEA, and its decision to start enriching low enriched uranium to 20 percent."
Catherine Ashton, spokesperson for the European Union's foreign affairs chief, applauded the agreement, but said the problem of Iran's intentions remained: "This is welcome but does not solve the fundamental problem, which is the international community has serious concerns about (the stated) peaceful intentions of Iran's nuclear program."
As might be expected, Israel is not happy about the deal, because it eliminates the rationale for imposing crippling sanctions to thwart Iran's supposedly imminent development of a nuclear weapon. A senior Israeli official told AFP, "The Iranians have manipulated Turkey and Brazil. They have already pulled off such a trick in the past -- by pretending to accept such a procedure to lower tensions and reduce the risk of harsher international sanctions, then refusing to follow through."
President da Silva will attend a joint E.U.-Latin America conference in Europe this week, giving him the opportunity to explain the details of the agreement to the European countries and push for their consent. Namik Tan, Turkey's ambassador to the United States, urged the Obama administration to carefully consider the agreement and accept it. He told the Associated Press that Turkey believes that the deal meets all U.S. demands. "We have delivered what they were asking for." He added, "If we fail to get a positive reaction, it would be a real frustration."
The agreement will surely be viewed by many in the West as a face-saving escape by Iran from the looming confrontation with the United States and its allies. On the other hand, Dr. Ali Akbar Salehi, the MIT-educated head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and one of Ahmadinejad's vice presidents, said last week that Iran sought a deal "to give Western countries an opportunity to save face and find a way out of the current situation." In reality, this is probably a face-saving result for both sides.
The agreement has advantages for many parties. It produces at least two main benefits for Iran as a nation. First, it forces Washington and its allies to recognize Iran's uranium enrichment program as legitimate (if such recognition outside the NPT was actually needed). This was the point made on Monday in Tehran by Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, who said that the trilateral fuel swap agreement recognizes Iran's right for peaceful nuclear energy.
Second, it can forestall the harsh sanctions that the United States and its allies have been threatening. With Iran's economy in shambles due to the incompetence and corruption of Ahmadinejad's government, the sanctions would bring extra hardship and misery to tens of millions of Iranians, while doing nothing to weaken the hardliners' grip on power. If anything, such sanctions would only have strengthened their position.
The agreement is also beneficial to Iran's Green Movement and the struggle for democracy, because it makes it highly unlikely that military attacks on Iran will take place, at least in the near future. The hardliners would use such attacks as an excuse to wipe out all opposing voices as threats to Iran's national security and territorial integrity. In addition, the hardliners' accommodation of foreign demands renders their accusations that the Green Movement is under foreign control even more absurd than they have already appeared.
The hardliners also benefit from the agreement. They cannot fight two simultaneous wars, one domestic and one external. With the anniversary of the rigged election of June 12, 2009, rapidly approaching and crippling sanctions looming, they needed to calm one front in order to focus their energy and resources on the second. The recent executions of five dissidents, the scathing attacks on Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi for their criticism of the killings, and the threat by Tehran's chief prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi, to execute at least six more all indicate the hardliners' belief in the need to keep Iran's citizens in a state of fear.
Can the Obama administration take "yes" for an answer? That remains to be seen. But unlike the Europeans' chilly reactions, the first U.S. response appears to be positive. Admiral James Stavridis, NATO supreme commander, said the agreement was "a potentially good development," according to the AFP. "I think that's an example of what we all look for, which is a diplomatic system that encourages good behavior on the part of the Iranian regime." He added, "Obviously, we have a million miles to go."
But good behavior should also be expected of the United States and its allies, and both sides need to cross their share of those million miles to meet in the middle.
Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau
From L to R: Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan raise their hands together after the Islamic republic inked a nuclear fuel swap deal in Tehran on May 17, 2010 under which 1,200 kilos of low enriched uranium will be shipped to Turkey, potentially ending a standoff with world powers gearing for new sanctions against Tehran. Photograph by Atta Kenare, AFP/Getty Images