- The Washington Times - Monday, May 17, 2010

UPDATED:

TEHRAN (AP) — Iran agreed Monday to a key big power demand, saying it was ready to ship much of its low-enriched uranium abroad — but immediately rolled out a new obstacle to compromise on its nuclear program by insisting it would continue enriching to higher levels.

Tehran’s decision to agree to export a large amount of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey after refusing to let it leave the country for more than half a year appeared to be an attempt to stave off a new set of looming U.N. sanctions — a doubtful endeavor, judging by initial reactions from Western nations spearheading attempts to deal with Iran’s nuclear defiance.

In Washington, the White House showed deep skepticism about the deal, saying it has the chance to be “positive step” but warning that the deal still allows Iran to keep enriching uranium toward the pursuit of a nuclear weapon.

“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,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a written statement to the media.

In a deal struck with Turkey and Brazil, Iran said it would export much of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey. In return, Iran would get fuel rods of medium-enriched uranium to use in a Tehran medical research reactor. The move was seen as an attempt by Iran to prevent a looming round of United Nations sanctions.

But the nations leading the charge for more punitive action against Iran over its nuclear defiance, including the U.S., were hardly swayed.

Mr. Gibbs said that Iran still must make clear that its nuclear program is intended only for peaceful purposes “or face consequences, including sanctions.”

The U.N. has already imposed three rounds of financial sanctions on Iran for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. The process is key to concerns over its program, because it can produce either low-enriched uranium needed to fuel a nuclear reactor or the highly enriched uranium needed to build a warhead.

Iran’s decision to continue its program to enrich uranium to near 20 percent is a direct violation of existing U.N. Security Council resolutions, Mr. Gibbs said.

The White House spokesman added that the declaration issued out of Tehran is also vague about Iran’s willingness to meet as promised with the set of countries working to resolve the nuclear standoff — the U.S, China, France, Russia, Britain and Germany.

An original U.N. proposal called for the Iranian uranium stockpile to be sent to Russia to be further enriched to 20 percent, then turned into fuel rods to power a Tehran medical research reactor that produces isotopes for cancer treatment. The material returned to Iran as rods cannot be processed beyond its lower, safer levels.

Britain’s government said it was awaiting confirmation of the reports on the deal.

“Our position on Iran is unchanged at the present time,” Steve Field, Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman, told reporters. “Iran has an obligation to reassure the international community, and until it does so, we will continue to work with our international partners on a sanctions resolution in the United Nations Security Council.”

German government spokesman Christoph Steegmans noted that the question remains whether Iran suspends enrichment of nuclear material at home, apparently alluding to Tehran’s decision to continue higher enrichment activities.

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