The agreement on the transfer of Iran's enriched uranium, achieved via Turkish-Brazilian mediation, is an important victory for Iranian diplomacy and a debacle for Israeli policy. The deal reduces the chances, which were slim to begin with, of new sanctions being imposed on Iran, and makes a military strike against Iran even less feasible.
The full, precise details of the agreement are not known, and the devil is in the details. But the deal's significance is clear: a new atmosphere, at least on the face of it, of dialogue, negotiations and compromise with the ayatollahs' regime in Tehran.
U.S. and French spokesmen did express doubts about the likelihood of the deal being implemented, and they do understand that it enables Iran to continue its nuclear program in line with the timetable it has set for itself. But in the atmosphere that has now been created, the Obama administration will find it even harder to convince Russia and China to support a resolution to impose sanctions on Iran. Moreover, there is no majority for such a move on the Security Council.
It is not clear whether the United States was in the know about the talks between Turkey, Brazil and Iran, though there are some who believe it was undoubtedly involved. But either way, Washington is not upset over the agreement. If he so wishes, U.S. President Barack Obama could use the deal as a springboard for talks with Iran - not only about its nuclear program, but also about the broader strategic context that includes Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf.
The agreement is based on an earlier deal that Iran helped formulate, but ultimately pulled out of. Under that deal, reached in Geneva and Vienna in September and October 2009, Iran was to transfer 1.2 tons of low-enriched uranium to Russia, and from there to France, where it would be further enriched to a 20 percent level and transformed into nuclear fuel rods.
The aim of that deal was to get the uranium away from Iran so that it would be unable to enrich it to the 90 percent level necessary for the fissile material used in nuclear weapons. Indeed, the amount Iran was supposed to transfer seven months ago constituted 75 percent of its total supply of enriched uranium. Since then, however, its centrifuges have been working overtime.
Two tons of low-enriched uranium are now stored at its enrichment facility in Natanz. Thus even if Iran hands over the uranium called for in the agreement, it will still have nearly a ton. That would be sufficient raw material for the further enrichment needed to produce fissile material.
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