US to continue push for sanctions

Iran agrees to ship some uranium to Turkey, keeps enrichment going.

Ahmadinejad, Erdogan, Da Silva et al (photo credit: Associated Press)
Ahmadinejad, Erdogan, Da Silva et al
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The United States will move ahead with its press for sanctions against Iran, despite Teheran’s announcement that it will ship some of its low-enriched uranium abroad, American officials said on Monday.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the US would continue to work with its international partners 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.”
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The US has been pushing the Security Council to issue a fourth round of sanctions against Teheran for continuing to defy the international community by enriching uranium. It has been slow going, but the US has picked up some momentum, especially with holdouts Russia and China, in recent weeks as it aims for a new resolution by the end of next month.
By agreeing to ship low-enriched uranium abroad, Iran appeared to be trying to scuttle the push for a fourth round of Security Council sanctions. Countries less supportive of sanctions could see the deal as providing more time for a diplomatic solution and as a sign of Iranian cooperation.
But Gibbs stressed on Monday that “given Iran’s repeated failure to live up to its own commitments, and the need to address fundamental issues related to Iran’s nuclear program, the United States and international community continue to have serious concerns.”
The deal – signed with Turkey and Brazil earlier on Monday – is similar to one struck in October between Teheran and the P5+1 (the US, France, UK, Russia and China plus Germany), which have been working with Teheran to resolve the nuclear issue.
In that case, Iran’s enriched uranium was due to be shipped to Russia and returned as fuel rods that could not be used for a nuclear weapons program without first being reprocessed. But Iran never went through with the arrangement, prompting the US to go to Security Council for another round of sanctions.
While the new arrangement would see a similar amount of uranium shipped abroad as in October’s deal, Iran has since produced sufficient additional low-enriched material to leave it with enough to make such a weapon even if it sends the originally agreed on amount abroad. In addition Iran has signaled it intends to keep enriching uranium to a higher level in the meantime.
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“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-percent enrichment, which is a direct violation of UN Security Council resolutions,” Gibbs said, adding that the new arrangement is “vague” about meeting with the P5+1, as Teheran previously committed to doing.
Following Monday’s signing, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for new diplomatic talks, ones that presumably would not focus on sanctions. “Following the signing of the nuclear fuel swap deal, it is time for 5+1 countries to enter talks with Iran based on honesty, justice and mutual respect,” he said.
'Israel will respond in due course'
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu directed his ministers on Monday night not to respond to the deal, saying that Israel’s response would come in due course.
This wait-and-see approach was at odds with Israel’s generally favorable response seven months ago to the first attempt to get the Iranians to ship most of its low-enriched uranium abroad.
Another official said Israel did not yet have enough details on the deal to determine what it meant, particularly since the amount of fuel in Iran’s possession had increased since the original plan was inked.
Israel, the official added, had no need to come out with a response to the agreement, since this was an international issue and one being led by the P5+1.
International reaction: tepid
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev welcomed the agreement but advised caution. During a trip to Ukraine, Medvedev said that Iran’s plans to continue uranium enrichment could continue to engender international concern over the regime’s nuclear program. In particular, he cited Iran’s intention to continue enriching its own uranium.
Germany and Britain expressed serious caution following reports of the deal, and British officials – like their American counterparts – said they were still committed to sanctions. “Our position on Iran is unchanged at the present time,” Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman told reporters.
Alistair Burt, a parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Foreign Office, said “Iran has an obligation to assure the international community of its peaceful intentions. The IAEA has said it is unable to verify this.”
That is why, he added, Britain “has 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.”
Iran avoids brinksmanship, keeps testing world powers' limits
Iran’s agreement to the new arrangement fit well into its pattern of behavior, according to Emily Landau, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University and director of its arms control and regional security program. Iran is not North Korea and is not interested in brinksmanship with the world, she said; rather, the Iranians gauge very carefully the world’s reactions to their actions, and plan their next steps accordingly.
“When they take an action that might get a strong reaction, they move back a bit. And when they see no harsh horizon, they push forward stronger,” she said.
“They might have come to the conclusion that some sanctions were likely to be agreed upon, and that even the watered-down sanctions being discussed were too much at this point,” Landau said. “So it was very convenient for them to go forward with Turkey and Brazil.”
Landau said that while delaying Iran’s nuclear progress was a positive, it would only be effective if the international community used the time gained to put a halt to Teheran’s nuclear march.
“Delaying their progress is good news if there are good ideas about how to use the gained time,” she said. The problem, she added, is that she still didn’t see a strategy from the Obama administration for stopping – not merely delaying for a few months – the Iranian program.
She also noted that very little was yet known about the deal, and American officials pointed out that Iran had yet to present it to the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, which would be an important sign of seriousness. Teheran has indicated it would present it to the IAEA in the coming week.
“The only thing we know is that 1,200 kilos of low-grade enriched uranium will be shipped to Turkey, and somehow transformed into fuel rods for Iran’s small reactor. We don’t know who will do this,” she said, adding that she didn’t think Turkey had that capability.
Landau pointed out that both Turkey and Brazil had very strong economic ties with Iran and were opposed to sanctions because of the harm they would cause their economic interests. Both countries are currently non-permanent members of the Security Council.
Both countries, she said, also felt that the role of mediator could significantly enhance their diplomatic standing on the world stage.
“Brazil wants to be a permanent member of the Security Council, and it would be important for it to pull off this kind of deal,” she said. And Turkey, she pointed out, had sought to be a mediator between Israel and Syria, the US and Iran, and even Hamas and Israel.
It was clear that neither Turkey nor Brazil was motivated in putting together this deal by a “non-proliferation agenda,” Landau said.
AP contributed to this report.