Farhad Pouladi – AFP May 17, 2010
Iran signed a nuclear fuel swap deal Monday which commits it to ship the bulk of its low enriched uranium to Turkey, potentially ending a standoff with sanctions-threatening world powers.
The agreement, under which Iran will in return receive nuclear fuel for a Tehran reactor, was signed in the Iranian capital between the foreign ministers of Iran, Turkey and Brazil, an AFP correspondent said.
The signing came after three-way talks in Tehran by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), did not immediately comment.
But Israel, which along with many Western powers suspects Iran is using its nuclear enrichment programme to mask a drive for atomic weapons, immediately accused Tehran of trickery.
"The Iranians have manipulated Turkey and Brazil," a senior Israeli official in Jerusalem told AFP on condition of anonymity.
"The Iranians 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," he said.
Iran said that with the signing of the deal, the ball is now in the court of Western powers.
"Iran has shown its good will by accepting the Brazilian and Turkish proposal," Iran's atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi said.
"From now on the ball is in the West's court and the Vienna group (the United States, France and Russia) should give a suitable response to Iran's offer of cooperation," Salehi told the official IRNA news agency.
IRNA also reported that Ahmadinejad said he now hoped world powers would enter talks with Tehran.
"I hope the 5+1 (UN Security Council permanent members plus Germany) enter talks with honesty, respect and fairness and heed the great work started in Tehran," it quoted him as saying.
Under the agreement, Iran will deposit 1,200 kilograms (2,640 pounds) of its low enriched uranium 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," the accord reads, adding that Iran will inform the UN watchdog of the accord "within seven days."
Foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters that it would then be up to the IAEA to inform the Vienna group of the proposal.
Should they accept the deal, Iran would deliver 1,200 kilograms of LEU to Turkey within a month and would expect to receive 120 kilograms of fuel for the Tehran research reactor within a year.
The US has been at the forefront of efforts to secure a fourth round of UN sanctions against the Islamic republic for failing to halt its uranium enrichment activities.
It had been infuriated by Tehran's refusal to sign up to the deal brokered by the IAEA in October, under which Iran was required to ship its LEU to Russia to be further enriched and then on to France to make nuclear fuel for the Tehran research reactor.
Iran had insisted it wanted to keep the LEU on its own soil for a simultaneous swap with reactor fuel.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu told reporters after Monday's signing that Ankara now sees "no need" for further UN sanctions against Iran.
"This agreement should be regarded positively and there is no need for sanctions now that we (Turkey and Brazil) have made guarantees and the low enriched uranium will remain in Turkey," he said.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said the agreement showed there is still time for diplomacy and negotiation.
"This agreement had two major aims, one is that Iran is entitled to peaceful use of nuclear technology and having an enrichment programme and the other is that Iran should pledge guarantees to the international community over the aims of its nuclear programme," he said.
At the heart of the international dispute over Iran's nuclear programme is the suspicion in the West that Iran wants the highly enriched uranium it produces to make an atomic bomb – a charge Tehran vehemently denies.
Both Russia and the United States had made it clear they considered Lula's visit to Iran as Tehran's last chance to stave off sanctions.
Turkey and Brazil, both currently non-permanent members of the UN Security Council, have resisted efforts to push through a fourth package of sanctions against Iran.
Last updated 19/05/2010