Good news – and, one way or another, I do think this is good news – this morning from Tehran.
Following on talks between Turkish, Brazilian and Iranian leaders over the weekend, Iran has agreed to ship much of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey in a deal that, according to AP, “could ease the international standoff over the country’s disputed atomic program and deflate a US-led push for tougher sanctions.”
“According to the trilateral deal, Iran will deliver 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium to Turkey,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu during a press conference on the sidelines of the 14th G-15 Summit in Tehran today. In return, Iran will receive 120 kilograms of 20% enriched uranium fuel rods for use in a Tehran medical research reactor that produces isotopes for cancer treatment.
While the mainstream media may be getting ahead of themselves a bit, this move is good in many ways. Tensions over Iran’s nuclear program have continued to rise since the announcement of a second, secret, Iranian uranium enrichment facility near the city of Qom almost a year ago. Congress is chomping at the bit for new sanctions and even the use of force.
Without a doubt, skeptics will immediately point out Iran’s long history of cooperation up to the very precipice of a deal, with no eventual follow-through. It may not matter much whether the deal makes it to a close, however. In the end, it provides for one undeniably positive benefit: time.
In the time it has taken to negotiate this deal, Iran has doubled its stockpile of LEU. The original purpose, which hoped to delay any Iranian “breakout” capability by at least a year, is effectively dead – so in the end, even “success” will make little difference.
Politically, however, the deal provides a treasury of stalling techniques to the administration, which will likely want to employ as many as possible.
What remains true is that the situation in Iran needs more time…
When this deal was proposed, Iran remained submerged within an interior struggle over human rights. While the struggle remains, it has cooled. Iran’s leaders may now have the ability to turn their attention more fully to the nuclear issue.
If this is too optimistic a scenario, more time may also provide the administration with what it needs to secure strong multilateral sanctions – the kind that won’t benefit the Iranian Regime.
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast said that the IAEA should expect to receive a letter with regards to the swap deal “within a week.”
The swap will have to wait for official approval from the Vienna Group, which consists of representatives from France, Russia and the US and the IAEA, but will begin nearly a month after it is given.
The details of the deal are still unclear and agreement from the Vienna Group is far from certain. Since another country will need to provide 1200 kg of LEU for the swap, this will not be just a trilateral deal – others must be convinced to cooperate.
Where the US is concerned, Jeffrey points out in a great post on Arms Control Wonk why the administration won’t want to be perceived as at fault if this one falls through. In this way, I would argue that at least tacit US participation is likely.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns are due to discuss Iran at a meeting today with Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov.
For now, the text of the agreement is below:
JOINT DECLARATION BY IRAN, TURKEY AND BRAZIL
(17 May 2010)
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.