TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran inked a nuclear fuel swap deal Monday which commits it to ship 1,200 kilograms of low enriched uranium to Turkey, potentially ending a standoff with world powers gearing for new sanctions against the Islamic republic.
The agreement, under which Iran will in return receive nuclear fuel for a Tehran reactor, was signed in the Iranian capital between the foreign ministers of Iran, Turkey and Brazil, an AFP correspondent said.
The signing came after three-way talks by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Under the agreement, Iran will deposit 1,200 kilograms (2,640 pounds) of its low enriched uranium in Turkey.
“While in Turkey this LEU will continue to be the property of Iran. Iran and the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) may station observers to monitor the safekeeping of the LEU in Turkey,” the accord reads.
“Iran will notify the IAEA in writing through official channels of its agreement with the above within seven days following the date of this declaration,” it adds.
Foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters that it would then be up to the IAEA to inform “the Vienna group” — the United States, France and Russia — of the proposal.
The three powers have been at the forefront of efforts to persuade Iran to accept a UN-backed deal brokered last October, under which Iran was required to ship its LEU to Russia to be further enriched and then on to France to make nuclear fuel for the Tehran research reactor.
Iran had so far stalled on the deal, insisting it wants to keep the LEU on its own soil for a simultaneous swap with reactor fuel.
Its refusal to sign on the IAEA accord prompted major powers led by the United States to threaten a fourth round of UN sanctions against the Islamic republic for failing to halt its uranium enrichment activities.
Should the Vienna group accept the deal, the accord says, Iran would deliver 1,200 kilograms of LEU to Turkey within a month and would expect to receive from the world powers 120 kilos of fuel for Tehran’s research reactor within a year.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu told reporters after Monday’s signing that Anakra now sees “no need” for further UN sanctions against Iran.
“This agreement should be regarded positively and there is no need for sanctions now that we (Turkey and Brazil) have made guarantees and the low enriched uranium will remain in Turkey,” he said.
But Israel, which along with many Western powers suspects Iran is using its nuclear enrichment programme to mask a drive for atomic weapons, immediately accused Tehran of trickery.
“The Iranians have manipulated Turkey and Brazil,” a senior Israeli official in Jerusalem told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“The Iranians have already pulled off such a trick in the past — by pretending to accept such a procedure to lower tensions and reduce the risk of harsher international sanctions, then refusing to follow through,” he said.
There was no immediate reaction from the IAEA.
Brazil’s president, in Iran for a summit of non-aligned countries, held talks on the nuclear issue with Iran’s leadership Sunday.
At Iran’s invitation, Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan arrived at around midnight local time (1930 GMT) Sunday to join Lula.
At the heart of the international dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme is the suspicion in the West that Iran wants the highly enriched uranium it produces to make an atomic bomb — a charge Tehran vehemently denies.
In recent days both Russia and the United States made it clear that they considered Lula’s visit to Iran as Tehran’s last chance to stave off sanctions.
Turkey and Brazil are both currently non-permanent members of the UN Security Council.
Both have so far resisted US-led efforts to push through a fourth package of sanctions over Iran’s failure to heed repeated ultimatums to suspend its sensitive uranium enrichment activities.