President Obama’s letter of April 20 to Brazilian’s President Lula da Silva has been leaked yesterday. Large parts deal with the proposal worked out by former nuclear watchdog Mohamed Elbaradei last October with regard to the fuel swap, Iran’s golden opportunity to get both fuel for its research reactor in Tehran (TRR) and sort of indirect legitimization of its ongoing enrichment efforts. Both sides would enormously benefit from mutual trust building.
The original text of ElBaradei’s proposal after the Geneva talks has not been made public yet, but it is known that it contained the proposition of sending 1,200 kg of Iran’s low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia while, after further enrichment, fuel rods or plates would be delivered later by France.
While the Iranian delegation found the implications of El Baradei’s proposal, i.e., legitimization of enrichment, very attractive, domestic power struggles finally led to a counterproposal: the swap had to take place on Iranian soil. That was unacceptable for the U.S. and other western powers since their main objective was to get about 75% of Iran’s stockpile of LEU out of country.
In November last year, in an attempt to overcome the impasse, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) offered Iran to ship 1,200 kg LEU to a third country, specifically Turkey. Obama notes, in his letter to Lula, that
“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.” (Emphasis added.)
Well, that was exactly what Brazil and Turkey apparently did when they achieved their aim on May 17. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton now claims that the diplomatic breakthrough has been insufficient since Iran would not be willing to cease all enrichment efforts. As mentioned, we don’t know the exact wording of ElBaradei’s proposal. But Obama gives some hints:
“The IAEA’s proposal was crafted to be fair and balanced, and for both sides to gain trust and confidence. For us, Iran’s agreement to transfer 1,200 kg 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. For Iran, it would receive the nuclear fuel requested to ensure continued operation of the TRR to produce needed medical isotopes and, by using its own material, Iran would begin to demonstrate peaceful nuclear intent. Notwithstanding Iran’s continuing defiance of five United Nations Security Council resolutions mandating that it cease its enrichment of uranium, we were prepared to support and facilitate action on a proposal that would provide Iran nuclear fuel using uranium enriched by Iran—a demonstration of our willingness to be creative in pursuing a way to build mutual confidence.”
I doubt whether the Iranian delegation would have even considered the deal if it had contained an element of ceasing uranium enrichment. Thus, at least indirectly, the U.S. would have tolerated Iran’s enrichment efforts, something which is now, after the deal had unexpectedly been brokered by Turkey and Brazil, is denied in order to impose new sanctions.
Last update May 28, 2010.