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.
'A transparent ploy'
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.
Tehran had no official comment, but Iranian state television called Clinton's remarks "hasty."
"It shows that the U.S. is not after a solution," for Iran's nuclear issue and that Washington's attitude is similar to a "political deception," the TV commentary said. It added that the "ground for talks will be paved" if the U.S. and its Western allies respect the "rules of the game."
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.
At U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said experts from the Security Council member nations were working through the text of the draft resolution. "The inputs and comments we've received from fellow council members have been constructive," she said. "They have improved the text and we welcome the spirit in which they have been contributing."
In Washington, the two U.S. lawmakers leading efforts to craft an Iran sanctions bill said that they will delay passage of their legislation in light of the progress made at the U.N.
They had intended to send a sanctions measure to President Barack Obama by the end of May, despite the administration's preference that they wait until after the U.N. and European Union adopt sanctions.
"We believe that our overriding goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability is best served by providing a limited amount of time" for the U.N. to complete its work and for the European Union to take action on Iran at its mid-June summit, said Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., in a joint statement.
More nuclear material?
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.