US answer to Iran nuclear swap: Overnight deal on sanctions

A day after Turkey and Brazil announced an Iran nuclear fuel swap, the US says it has secured the support of all five permanent UN Security Council members – including Russia and China – for Iran sanctions.

Vahid Salemi/AP
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, center, his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, left, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, talk in Tehran, Iran, Monday before signing an agreement to ship most of Iran's enriched uranium to Turkey in a nuclear fuel swap deal.

In a swift answer to the Iran nuclear fuel deal secured Monday by Turkey and Brazil, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced today that world powers had finalized a package of "strong" new sanctions against Iran.

After months of diplomatic efforts, the US secured support overnight from Russia and China, removing the possibility that the move would be vetoed by the United Nations Security Council. The draft would be circulated later Tuesday to the full Council, she said.

“This announcement is as convincing an answer to the efforts undertaken by Tehran over the last few days as any we could provide,” Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “There are a number of unanswered questions regarding the announcement coming from Tehran.”

While Clinton said the US acknowledged the “sincere efforts of both Turkey and Brazil to find a solution," she made clear that the US considered Iran to be still in breach of five Security Council resolutions against it.

"We are proceeding to rally the international community on behalf of a strong sanctions resolution that will in our view send an unmistakable message about what is expected from Iran,” Clinton said.

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A rebuff to Turkey

That unmistakable message would also come through as a clear rebuff to Turkey, where just hours before Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had said that the Iran nuclear deal signed yesterday represented “an important psychological threshold” of trust with Iran that should not be undermined by further talk of sanctions.

Seeking to counter the cool reception from the US and Europe to the Turkey-Brazil brokered deal, Mr. Davutoglu said during a press conference in Istanbul on Tuesday that senior US officials including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Adviser James Jones had been in “constant contact with us.”

In addition, he noted that President Obama had encouraged Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in face-to-face meetings in December and April, to convince Iran to accept an original US-backed proposal put forward in October. The nuclear fuel swap deal signed in Tehran on Monday, which calls for Iran to send more than half of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Turkey, is almost identical to that deal.

“What they wanted us to do was give the confidence to Iran to do the swap. We have done our duty,” said Davutoglu, calling the deal an important step for regional and global peace. “We were told that if Iran gives 1,200 kg without conditions, then the required atmosphere of trust would be created [to avoid sanctions]. So if we do all these things, and they still talk about sanctions ... [it] will damage the psychological trust that has been created.”

Davutoglu said that the deal also required "sacrifices" from Iran, which had demanded as late as last week that it be allowed to carry out the swap on Iranian soil, and in batches rather than all at once, and that it receive the higher enriched fuel in a simultaneous trade.

US: Iran still defying five Security Council resolutions

In Washington on Monday, officials had been quick to point out that due to Iran's continuing uranium enrichment, 1,200 kg represents roughly 55 percent of Iran's total declared LEU stockpile, not the 70 percent it represented in October. In addition, some were dismayed that the confidence-building measure, designed to buy time for more complete negotiations over UN Security Council concerns about Iran's nuclear program, had taken the spotlight off those concerns.

"Iran remains in defiance of five UN Security Council resolutions, including its unwillingness to suspend enrichment operations," US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley had said on Monday. “Our efforts for sanctions at the UN will continue.”

However, the US draft for a fourth round of sanctions will face a harder battle now that Brazil and Turkey – both rotating Security Council members – have revived a diplomatic option.

Before news broke of the new sanctions draft, Davutoglu said that he was going to speak to foreign ministers from all non-permanent members of the UNSC, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was to explain the deal to all permanent members.

China – the permanent Security Council member which had most opposed sanctions on Iran, a key trading partner – yesterday “expressed its welcome and appreciation for the diplomatic efforts” to find an “appropriate solution.” But Clinton stated that China had nevertheless signed up to the new sanctions draft – and presumably would not veto a vote.

Iranian officials said they wanted a swift and positive response from so-called Vienna Group, comprised of the International Atomic Energy Agency based in that city, as well as the US, Russia, and France. “We expect members of the Vienna Group to quickly announce their readiness” to implement the deal, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehrmanparast said on Tuesday.

Shadow cast over Turkey's breakthrough

For Turkey and Brazil, both regional powers seeking to grow in global influence, the Iran fuel swap was a breakthrough. They positioned themselves as guarantors of a process that Davutoglu said had now achieved “a new spirit of cooperation” that could yield “winds of peace” with Iran.

He said Turkey now expected the “same flexibility” from the US and the West in dealing with Iran – flexibility which the US has now made clear is not on offer.

“Discussions of sanctions will spoil the atmosphere and may provoke Iranian public opinion,” said Davutoglu. It was Mr. Obama’s policy of engagement that “paved the way for this process,” and his words of support for Turkey’s diplomatic efforts with Iran last April “encouraged and motivated us.”

During months of talks, Davutoglu has made seven visits to Iran, while his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki has visited Turkey five times. There were 40 calls between Turkey and Mottaki, as well as many others with Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Jones, and the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. The final push was 18 consecutive hours of negotiations in Tehran this past weekend.

“We don’t want war, tension or sanctions in our region,” said Davutoglu, the architect of Turkey's "zero problems with neighbors" foreign policy approach. “We want peace and tranquility."

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