Q+A: Is Iran swap deal a climbdown or master stroke in nuke row?
(Reuters) - Tehran agreed with Brazil and Turkey to send the bulk of its low enriched Uranium to Turkey as part of a nuclear fuel swap deal to avoid fresh U.N. sanctions over its nuclear ambitions.
Iran had rejected an original U.N.-backed deal with Russia, the United States and France to ship 1,200 kg (2,646 lb) of its five percent enriched uranium abroad for transformation into fuel for a medical research reactor.
In a major policy shift after months of deadlock, Iran, under Brazilian and Turkish mediation, accepted to swap the fuel outside its territory.
Following are some questions about Iran's intentions:
IS THIS A TACTICAL MASTER STROKE?
Iran faces a fourth round of U.N. sanctions over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment-related activities. The agreement may split the major powers and allow China and Russia, veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council, to argue against sanctions. Their response will be of crucial importance.
By making last-minute concessions since the U.N.-drafted swap deal was put at the table last October, Iran has already bought time in its attempt to enrich uranium.
"Iran has had time to enrich a substantial amount of new LEU in the six to nine months which have passed since the first round of potential LEU-for-20%-enriched-fuel proposal was tabled, making the 1,200 kg of LEU constitute a less comprehensive part of its total LEU stockpile," said analyst Gala Riani of IHS Global Insight.
"It is perhaps too early to tell whether the deal represents a resounding success for Iran and its partners ... For Iran, by engaging Brazil and Turkey, its independence has been marked and Western efforts to reach an agreement rebuffed. Even so, the deal differs little in content from the October agreement reached last year. Iran has unlocked nine months of impasse, although by now the agreement is -- from a Western perspective -- less relevant and comprehensive than when it first was launched."
The deal, struck with Brazil and Turkey and not with Iran's Western adversaries, is likely to make it easier for the hardline Iranian leadership and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to get domestic support for the agreement.
It enables Iran to meet Western terms without dealing directly with major powers. Erdogan, who took a stand against Israel's attack on Gaza in 2008, is a much more palatable figure for the establishment to deal with and sell a deal at home.
At home, any breakthrough in the nuclear standoff with the West could boost President Ahmadinejad credentials.
HAS IRAN COMPROMISED ON NUCLEAR FUEL DEAL?
Yes, it has made tactical concessions. Until recently Iranian officials, who say their country's atomic program is purely for peaceful purposes, insisted that any fuel exchange should take place on Iranian soil simultaneously -- conditions that have been rejected by major powers. Under the new swap deal it is obvious that Tehran has changed its official stand.
WHAT MAY HAPPEN AFTER THE SWAP DEAL
Uranium enrichment is at the center of Western suspicions over Tehran's atomic program, because if highly purified, it can be used to make the fissile material for a bomb. After signing the deal, Iran said it will continue its 20 percent uranium enrichment work, which western powers insist Iran must halt enrichment as a condition for fuel swap.
The deal may fail if Iran's arch foes, the United States, and its European allies insist on suspension of Iran's enrichment activities.
For Iran to be seen as averting a new round of sanctions while not compromising on the crucial issue of Iranian enrichment would help the leadership regain its legitimacy at home after months of unrest erupted following the disputed presidential vote in June.
The nuclear dispute has been used by the establishment as a tool to forge domestic unity. Ahmadinejad's opponents have criticized his policies but they have never questioned Iran's determination to obtain nuclear technology.
Iran, which wants to be acknowledged as a regional power, has no intention of compromising over its uranium enrichment activities.
Suspension of uranium enrichment activities may guarantee the clerical establishment's international credibility, but the establishment may face difficulties justifying the move to its core supporters, who have repeatedly rejected any compromise with the West.
Iran says its nuclear work is aimed at generating power and has made it clear that uranium enrichment suspension is a red line for the Islamic state, which the hardline authorities will never accept.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by Samia Nakhoul)
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