Tehran: In a bid to ward off fresh UN sanctions being pushed by the US, Iran on Monday announced it would ship 1,200 kgs of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey in a nuclear fuel swap deal.
Under the agreement, Turkey will enrich to higher levels the Iranian uranium and ship it back for use in Iranian medical reactors.
The agreement was signed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after a breakfast meeting, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said here.
Under the new deal, brokered by Brazil and Turkey, Iran will ship 1,200 kgs of uranium enriched to low levels to Turkey to trade it for fuel rods containing uranium enriched to higher levels. The fuel rods could be used in a medical research reactor.
Mottaki said in the event the deal is not implemented, Turkey would be obliged to return Iran`s uranium.
"Based on the agreement signed this morning, if the swap does not take place, then Turkey will be obliged to send back our dispatched uranium immediately and unconditionally," Mottaki said.
The deal is expected to be presented to the UN`s nuclear watchdog, International Atomic Energy Agency within a week.
And after its approval, Iran is prepared to ship the low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Turkey within one month. In return, Iran would expect to get 20 percent highly enriched uranium to use in its research reactors from the "Vienna group" within one year.
The deal is aimed at addressing key concerns of the west which did not want Iran to enrich uranium as it feared this could be used for making bombs.
"Iran, Brazil and Turkey have signed a deal for nuclear fuel swap in Turkish territory," Mottaki said.
The deal comes at a time when the US is pushing for fresh UN sanctions against Iran alleging that it was not cooperating with the IAEA in addressing the concerns of the international community over its nuclear programme.
Brazil and Turkey, along with India, have been opposing sanctions against Iran and have been advocating dialogue to resolve the issue.
There was no immediate comment from the US or other major western powers over the deal, but Israel described it as a "manipulated deal".
Brazil and Turkey, both non-permanent members of the UN Security Council, had resisted US-led efforts to push through new sanctions against Iran over its failure to accept repeated ultimatums to stop uranium enrichment activity.
They had offered to mediate to find a resolution to the impasse at a time when world powers are in talks to impose a fourth round of UN sanctions on Iran.
Lula and Erdogan held joint negotiations with Iranian official in what western and Russian authorities have maintained was last chance to avoid new UN sanctions against Iran.
The agreement, reached after 18-hour-long talks, may frustrate US efforts to step up sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
There is "no ground anymore for new sanctions (against Iran)," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said at the joint news conference with his Iranian and Brazilian counterpart.
He said Turkey will treat the Iranian uranium as "amanat" and "will protect it in our state like our own property".
Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said the agreement should "satisfy" international community that no further sanctions are required.
Iran now wants to hold talks with the US, Russia, France and the IAEA about its new deal.
Ahmadinejad called on six world powers, which have been discussing further UN sanctions on the major oil producer, for fresh talks on Iran`s nuclear programme in light of the fuel exchange agreement.
"Following the signing of the nuclear fuel swap deal, it is time for 5+1 countries to enter talks with Iran based on honesty, justice and mutual respect," Ahmadinejad said, referring to the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany.
Russia and France had earlier offered to enrich uranium for Iran but the country was reluctant to allow its stockpile of uranium to leave its soil before receiving the nuclear fuel, saying that the exchange must take place simultaneously inside the country.
It also appears Iran has dropped an earlier demand for the fuel exchange to happen in stages, rather than providing its material in a single batch.
A letter will be sent to the IAEA within a week to pave the way for a final agreement, it was announced at the news conference.
A month after the final agreement, the uranium - currently enriched to a level of 3.5 percent - would be sent to Turkey, where it would be stored under IAEA and Iranian supervision.
The fuel rods would contain material process to just under 20 percent. Enrichment of 90 percent is needed to produce material for nuclear warheads. Amorim said the three-way fuel swap deal reached officially recognises Iran`s right for peaceful nuclear energy and enrichment. It indicates that "there is still time for diplomacy and dialogue".
He said Iran, global community and the P5+1 should raise their confidence level.
Commenting on the fuel swap deal, the Brazilian minister said the agreement followed two major goals -- admitting Iran`s right to benefit from nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and the need for Iran to provide global community with guarantees in connection with its nuclear programme.
Further UN sanctions may penalise Iranian banking, shipping and insurance industries.
The US and its allies say that Iran wants highly enriched uranium to make an atomic weapon, but Tehran says its programme is designed to meet its civilian energy needs.
The deal would deprive Iran - at least temporarily - of the stocks of enriched uranium that it could process to the higher levels of enrichment needed in weapons production.
The material returned to Iran in the form of fuel rods could not be processed beyond its lower, safer levels, which are suitable for use in the Tehran research reactor.