The nuclear deal announced Monday between Iran, Brazil and Turkey has certainly gotten many analysts and reporters excited, not least the LA Times, which described the agreement as, possibly, a ‘stunning’ breakthrough.
And it could be.
According to Ramin Mehmanparast, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, the deal will entail the transfer of 1200 kilograms of Iran's low-enriched uranium (LEU), which has been enriched up to 3.5 percent, to Turkey. Once there, it will be exchanged for nuclear fuel.
But we shouldn’t get too carried away.
The 1200 kilograms that Iran will be sending abroad was part of a previous draft deal that the Obama administration offered to Tehran last October, a draft that was later rejected by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
To make a bomb, somewhere between 1000 to 1200 kilos of LEU is needed, which could then be turned into 25 kilograms of high-enriched uranium (HEU)—sufficient for one bomb.
The reason why Obama wanted Iran to ship over 1200 kilograms of LEU is that back in October the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran had 1763 Kg of LEU. By transferring 1200 (68 percent) of its LEU, Tehran would only be left with 563 kilograms. Based on its current capacity to produce 3 kilograms of LEU per day, it would have taken Tehran almost 5 months to have sufficient LEU again to make a bomb. Those five months would have allowed Obama sufficient time to negotiate with Iran (the last thing the US president wanted was to negotiate with Tehran while it was working on a bomb).
That was then. Iran has since increased its stockpile of LEU. According to the IAEA's last report, published on May 18, Iran had 2065 Kilograms of LEU. It’s believed that this figure has now reached 2300 kilograms, meaning that by handing over 1200 Kilograms of its LEU (taking into consideration the LEU produced since February), Iran will be left 1100 Kilos—enough to make a bomb—while talks continue.
The fact that Iran agreed to hand over 1200 kilograms of its LEU is, of course, positive and certainly makes the deal worth looking at. However, what could have sealed the deal and made it impossible to reject is if the Turkish and Brazilian presidents had accompanied it with another important document.
Such a document would contain answers to questions from the IAEA that Iran has not yet produced.
These are crucial questions. So crucial, in fact, that until such time that Iran does answer them, the IAEA will refuse to declare that Iran's nuclear programme is for civilian purposes only.
So, instead of rejecting the deal, Western governments should congratulate the Brazilian and Turkish governments for their achievement, but attach a condition for its acceptance, namely that it is conditional upon Iran answering the IAEA's queries.
Although Brazil and Turkey are major powers, it’s unlikely that they’d go against the United States and the EU. As a consequence, rather than risk their relations with such important trade partners, they could well be motivated to go the extra mile, and pressure Iran to clarify questions regarding its nuclear program.