x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

US: Iran sanctions are still on table

The United States greeted yesterday's nuclear deal between Brazil, Iran and Turkey with scepticism, saying the bargain will not derail its push for a fourth round of UN sanctions.

NEW YORK // The United States greeted yesterday's nuclear fuel swap deal between Brazil, Iran and Turkey with scepticism, saying the bargain will not derail its push for a fourth round of UN sanctions designed to halt Tehran's atomic ambitions. Iran signed a joint declaration with non-permanent UN Security Council members Turkey and Brazil yesterday to ship 1.2 tonnes of low-enriched uranium to Turkey within a month in exchange for enriched material. While the deal was hailed as a breakthrough in many corridors, it failed to dispel western fears that Tehran is covertly violating international agreements by seeking nuclear weapon technology.

"Given Iran's repeated failure to live up to its own commitments, and the need to address fundamental issues related to Iran's nuclear programme, the US and international community continue to have serious concerns," said the White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs. "The US will continue to work with our international partners, and through the UN Security Council, to make it clear to the Iranian government that it must demonstrate through deeds - and not simply words - its willingness to live up to international obligations or face consequences, including sanctions."

Although details of the deal are incomplete, Iran would purportedly ship 1.2 tonnes of low-enriched uranium to Turkey in exchange for 120kg of highly enriched uranium from France and Russia. The material would be used in a reactor in Tehran that makes radioisotopes for cancer treatment. The agreement is similar to one advanced by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last year and including the US, France and Russia in which Tehran would agree to ship low-enriched uranium stockpiles abroad and converted into enriched material

The two leaders who helped broker the latest agreement - the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the Brazilian president, Lula Inacio da Silva - both noted that there are no grounds for new UN sanctions against Iran anymore. Mr Lula hailed the deal as a "victory for diplomacy" while analysts underscored the growing diplomatic clout of Brazil and Turkey against declining western hegemony.

Speaking after 18 hours of negotiations with the two countries, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called on western nations to return to negotiations, saying it was time "to enter talks with Iran based on honesty, justice and mutual respect", Reuters reported. The US and its allies have long sought to curb Iran's atomic ambitions, pushing three sets of sanctions through the UN Security Council while accusing the Islamic republic of secretly developing nuclear weapons - a charge Tehran denies.

They have pursued dual-track diplomacy of engagement and a possible fourth round of sanctions, with the US advancing a draft UN resolution to fellow permanent Security Council members - Britain, France, Russia and China - and Germany, the so-called P5+1 group. A western diplomat close to negotiations in New York said the fuel swap deal "doesn't de-rail the sanctions resolution in any way". French officials dismissed the accord to supply Tehran's research reactor as a "confidence gesture, a side issue".

"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 programme," said the French foreign ministry spokesman, Bernard Valero. "The heart of the Iranian nuclear problem is its pursuit of enrichment at Natanz, its construction of a heavy water reactor at Arak, the concealment of its site at Qom and the unanswered questions posed by IAEA inspectors."

This week's agreement was designed to allay western fears that Iran would be much closer to producing bomb-grade material by enriching its uranium stockpiles to 20-per cent purity in domestic centrifuges. Iran's atomic agency chief has said Iran would stop producing 20 per cent-enriched uranium if it received fuel from abroad. But this idea was rejected in recent talks between Iran and the IAEA in Vienna.

"While it would be a positive step for Iran to transfer low-enriched uranium off of its soil as it agreed to do last October, Iran said today that it would continue its 20 per cent enrichment, which is a direct violation of UN Security Council resolutions," Mr Gibbs said. "Furthermore, the Joint Declaration issued in Tehran is vague about Iran's willingness to meet with the P5+1 countries to address international concerns about its nuclear programme, as it also agreed to do last October."

The IAEA will wait for Iran to submit a formal proposal before responding. Analysts are already highlighting missing details in the plan, such as which country will enrich the uranium and who will make the fuel assemblies - the arrangement of fuel roads needed to power a reactor. The 1.2 tonnes of low-enriched uranium Iran has agreed to send to Turkey would be enough to build a single bomb if purified to a high enough level. The quantity of Iran's remaining stockpile is unclear, although the UN's watchdog reported calculated that Iran had amassed 2,065kg of low-enriched uranium in a February report.

Alistair Burt, a Foreign Office minister in Britain's newly-formed government, said there was "no apparent civilian use" for the 20 per cent-uranium Iran would acquire through the deal and said Tehran's actions remained a "serious cause for concern". "Iran has an obligation to assure the international community of its peaceful intentions," he said. "The IAEA has said it is unable to verify this. That is why we have been working with our P5+1 partners on a sanctions resolution in the Security Council. Until Iran takes concrete actions to meet those obligations, that work must continue. "

jreinl@thenational.ae