The swap offer was negotiated last week by Brazil and Turkey, which are opposed to new UN sanctions on Iran, and the three countries signed a joint declaration on May 17 in Tehran which would commit Iran to shipping 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium for storage in Turkey.
In exchange, Iran would get fuel rods made from 20-percent enriched uranium; that level of enrichment is high enough for use in research reactors but too low for nuclear weapons.
Washington swiftly responded with skepticism to the deal and just hours after the leaders of Iran, Brazil and Turkey celebrated the deal last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that all five permanent UN Security Council members had agreed on a draft sanctions resolution.
Soon after the deal was announced, White House officials told The New York Times that Obama met personally with the Turkish and Brazilian leaders in Washington during last month’s Nuclear Security Summit to urge them to be careful not to give the Iranians a pretext to avoid complying with UN demands. Obama followed up those meetings with detailed letters in the last week of April outlining specific concerns, a senior US official told the daily at the time.
Speaking at the Brookings Institution think tank on Thursday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the United States has a “very serious” disagreement with Brazil over its approach to curbing Iran’s nuclear program, stating further that the Brazil-Turkish approach makes the world “more dangerous, not less,” and that the US had voiced its “serious disagreements” to Lula.
But, rejecting US criticism, both Brazilian and Turkish officials said they took Obama’s letter as a guide during the negotiations with Iran. Speaking to the New York Times, a senior Brazilian official said there was “some puzzlement” among Brazilian officials over why the US would reject the deal now because “the letter came from the highest authority and was very clear.”
Brazilian officials also provided a full copy of the letter, sent by Obama to Lula on April 20, to the daily, arguing that it laid the groundwork for the agreement they reached in Tehran.
In the letter, Obama wrote that an agreement by Iran to transfer about 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium (LEU) out of the country “would build confidence and reduce regional tensions by substantially reducing Iran’s” uranium stockpile, while making clear that the United States would continue to pursue sanctions while leaving the “door open to engagement with Iran.”
“There is a potentially important compromise that has already been offered. Last November, the IAEA conveyed to Iran our offer to allow Iran to ship its 1,200 kg of LEU to a third country -- specifically Turkey -- at the outset of the process to be held ‘in escrow’ as a guarantee during the fuel production process that Iran would get back its uranium if we failed to deliver the fuel. Iran has never pursued the ‘escrow’ compromise and has provided no credible explanation for its rejection. I believe that this raises real questions about Iran’s nuclear intentions, if Iran is unwilling to accept an offer to demonstrate that its LEU is for peaceful, civilian purposes. I would urge Brazil to impress upon Iran the opportunity presented by this offer to ‘escrow’ its uranium in Turkey while the nuclear fuel is being produced,” Obama was quoted as saying in the letter, published in full by PoliticaExterna.com.
The Brazilian government has not officially confirmed the authenticity of the letter, with Lula, however, insisting that the Tehran deal largely addressed the demands made by the United States months ago.
Susan E. Rice, the US permanent representative to the United Nations, told The New York Times that the letter from Obama to Lula should not be taken in isolation. “No one document or discussion captures the totality of the discussion and their mutual understanding,” she said.
In Ankara, Turkish officials, approached by Today’s Zaman, refused to disclose the letter sent by Obama to Erdoğan, which is likely to be similar to the one sent to Lula.
“We have already reflected how we interpreted Mr. Obama’s letter in our public messages. Disclosing the letter wouldn’t befit the modalities of alliance relationship between Turkey and the United States,” a Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Today’s Zaman.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had said earlier that during negotiations with Tehran, three conditions were presented by the world powers negotiating with Iran as essential in any deal on its nuclear program: that Iran should agree to transfer abroad 1,200 kilograms of its low-enriched uranium stockpile; that the amount of that transfer should take place in one batch; and that it should be deposited in a third country -- Turkey -- while awaiting delivery of high-enriched uranium from Russia and France.
“For us, Iran’s agreement to transfer 1,200 kilograms of Iran’s low enriched uranium (LEU) out of the country would build confidence and reduce regional tensions by substantially reducing Iran’s LEU stockpile. I want to underscore that this element is of fundamental importance for the United States,” Obama says in the letter.
Obama also says that the US will “pursue sanctions on the timeline that I have outlined” although he will leave the door open to engagement.