Clinton: Iran Nuclear Fuel Swap Offer Is "Ploy"

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks about the situation on the Korean peninsula during a press conference in Beijing, China, May 24, 2010.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday rejected as inadequate an Iranian plan to swap some of its enriched uranium for reactor fuel and called the offer a "transparent ploy" to try to avoid new U.N. Security Council sanctions over its suspect nuclear program.

Speaking in the Chinese capital of Beijing, Clinton said the swap offer submitted on Monday to the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog did not address international concerns about Iran's atomic ambitions and that the U.S.-led push for fresh Security Council penalties would continue.

"There are a number of deficiencies with it that do not answer the concerns of the international community," she told reporters after two days of intense strategic and economic talks with the Chinese that included lengthy discussions about Iran. For one, she noted that despite the offer Iran is insisting on continuing to enrich uranium at a high level.

The swap offer was negotiated last week by Brazil and Turkey, which are opposed to new U.N. sanctions on Iran. A day later, the United States announced that it had won agreement from the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany on a draft resolution that would hit Iran with a fourth round of penalties.

Clinton dismissed Iran's decision to accept Brazilian-Turkish mediation as a last-ditch attempt to avoid Security Council action that it knew were coming. And, she said traditional sanctions opponents like Russia and China saw the move in the same light.

"There is a recognition on the part of the international community that the agreement that was reached in Tehran a week ago between Iran and Brazil and Turkey only occurred because the Security Council was on the brink of publicly releasing the text of the resolution that we have been negotiating for many weeks," Clinton said.

"It was a transparent ploy to avoid Security Council action," she said.

Clinton said progress had been made on finalizing details of the new resolution, particularly with the Chinese who have been objecting to some specific companies and individuals that would be targeted by the economic and financial penalties. China has vast investments in Iran and has been resistant to sanctions, although it signed onto the draft.

"We discussed all this in great detail with our Chinese friends, and we are moving forward to hold Iran accountable," she said.

The U.S. and other Western countries accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian atomic energy program. Iran denies the charge but has repeatedly refused to prove that its program is peaceful.

On Monday, Iran formally submitted its swap plan to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.

The deal would commit Iran to ship 2,640 pounds of low-enriched uranium to Turkey, where it would be stored. In exchange, Iran would receive, within one year, higher-enriched fuel rods to be used in a U.S.-built medical research reactor.

On its face, the latest plan seems a significant concession, with Iran agreeing to ship its material to be stored in Turkey and to wait up to a year for higher-enriched uranium from France and Russia. However, Iran is believed to have much more nuclear material stockpiled since the IAEA first made the proposal last October.

And, Iran's insistence that even with the deal it will continue to enrich uranium to 20 percent — from which it can produce weapons-grade material much more quickly than lower levels — is an even greater problem for the U.S. and its allies.