FACING NEW UN sanctions for refusing to suspend its uranium enrichment, Iran executed a clever evasive maneuver, announcing a deal with Turkey and Brazil to ship some of its low-enriched uranium overseas, where it would then be converted for peaceful uses. In responding to Iran, President Obama needs to match shrewdness with shrewdness.
Obama should declare that he accepts the notion that Iran can demonstrate its peaceful intentions by shipping its low-enriched uranium for conversion abroad. But he must insist that Iran relinquish enough low-enriched uranium to ensure the country cannot make a nuclear weapon for at least a year. That would provide enough time to negotiate a deal that allows Iran a supply of nuclear fuel for peaceful uses while providing assurances to the rest of the world that it cannot build a nuclear weapon.
The agreement Iran cooked up with Turkey and Brazil differs in crucial ways from a deal Iran worked out last October with the so-called Vienna Group — the United States, Russia, France, and the International Atomic Energy Agency — but refused to implement. Under the earlier terms, Iran was to send 1,200 kilograms out of a total of 1,500 to Russia and France to be converted into fuel rods for a research reactor producing isotopes for medical use. Back then, 1,200 kilograms accounted for 80 percent of Iran’s total — enough to preclude the production of a nuclear weapon for about a year. But today Iran has about 2,300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium. So the 1,200 kilograms Iran told Turkey and Brazil it would send abroad is now only 55 percent of its stockpile, leaving Iran just a few months away from having enough fuel for a weapon.
Since Russia and China agreed this week to vote for new sanctions in the UN Security Council, Obama has a strong hand to play. He should thank Turkey and Brazil for their exertions and declare that a properly revised version of their agreement with Iran would be welcome — and then seek to make it happen.