The White House has reacted with cautiousness to the news that Iran has agreed to a deal to send low-enriched uranium abroad in return for nuclear fuel, following mediation talks with Turkish and Brazilian leaders.
The plan, signed May 17 in Tehran, could revive a United Nations-backed proposal for easing the international standoff over Iran's disputed nuclear program.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the United States is still hoping for a diplomatic solution but said today's announcement won't stop it working with its international partners or through the UN to make it clear that Iran has still not convinced the world that its nuclear program is peaceful.
"First and foremost, this proposal should be submitted directly to the IAEA to evaluate, fine print and all, so that the international community can take a look. But it does not change the steps that we are taking to hold Iran responsible for its obligations, including sanctions," Gibbs said.
Gibbs said the deal would be a "positive step" if Iran makes good on its promise to transfer low enriched uranium, but he noted that Iran has also announced that it will continue to enrich uranium up to 20 percent, in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
"Their shipping their low-enriched uranium out would be a positive sign. That would be progress. But understand that the proposal does not appear to address Tehran's recent announcement of increasing its enrichment to 20 percent. The [Tehran] research reactor was used as the direct justification for doing so. That, in and of itself, would make them noncompliant with their obligations and responsibilities," he said.
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said "there are still many outstanding questions" for Iran to answer before the international community would know whether the deal "represents something new or a warmed-over version of what Iran has put forward before."
"The burden is still on Iran," he said. "It is willing to come forward and address the international community's concerns? If it is, then that actually starts the process of building confidence, and that can have an impact on the broader process. But there are reasons to believe that what's in this declaration today is just another version of what Iran has said in public statements in recent months."
Fresh UN Talks
After this morning's announcement, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad called on the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany for fresh talks based on "honesty, justice, and mutual respect." The six world powers have been discussing a fourth round of UN sanctions on Iran.
Under the agreement, most of Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium would be sent to Turkey in return for 120 kilograms of nuclear fuel for a medical research reactor.
The uranium transfer would take place within a month of the agreement's approval by major powers, who would then deliver the fuel to Tehran within one year.
Reading from the text of the agreement at a news conference in Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said, "The Islamic Republic of Iran agrees to deposit 1,200 kilograms of [low-enriched uranium] in Turkey. While in Turkey, this LEU will continue to be the property of Iran."
He added that Iran and the IAEA "may station observers to monitor the safe-keeping of the LEU in Turkey."
Mottaki also said Tehran would notify the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, about the agreement within a week.
The swap deal was signed by Ahmadinejad, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erodgan, and Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Turkey and Brazil are nonpermanent members of the UN Security Council and have spoken out against imposing more sanctions against Iran for ignoring UN calls to halt its uranium enrichment program.
The West fears Iran wants highly enriched uranium to make an atomic bomb, a charge Tehran has denied.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu told reporters in Tehran that today's agreement meant there was now no need for further punitive measures against Iran.
"For us, now, there is no grounds anymore, for new sanctions or measures. It is now time to discuss, as it has been mentioned in the text -- Iran will write a letter to the IAEA and we hope that the IAEA in Vienna will react quickly and positively so that there will be a result in a very short period of time," Davutoglu said.
But it's not clear yet if the agreement is enough to satisfy the major powers -- led by the United States -- that have been pushing for fresh UN sanctions.
For one thing, Iran said after the deal was signed that it planned to continue work to enrich uranium to a 20-percent level -- a process that is at the core of Western concerns.
The French and German governments both reacted with caution, saying they wanted to obtain more information about the deal.
France's Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said the deal did not resolve the underlying dispute over Tehran's nuclear program.
The office of EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said the signed document was "a move in the right direction" but that "it does not answer all of the concerns raised over Iran's nuclear program."
That was a point repeated by EU President Herman Van Rompuy, who was speaking in Spain. "The European Union's position has been well known for months and it has not changed," Van Rompuy said.
"We are seriously concerned about the nuclear program of Iran. Iran has so far refused to engage in serious discussions on reasonable concerns related to its nuclear program. Iran needs to reassure the international community about the intentions behind its nuclear program," he added.
Under the terms of the earlier UN-backed proposal, Iran would send 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium -- currently enriched to a level of 3.5 percent -- to Russia, where it would be further enriched to 20 percent and then sent to France for processing into nuclear fuel rods. Tehran would use the rods to power a research reactor that produces nuclear isotopes used for medical purposes.
Tehran agreed in principle to the deal in October but then demanded changes such as a simultaneous swap on Iranian soil -- conditions other parties in the deal said were unacceptable.
written by Antoine Blua, with agency reports