Iran awaits swift response to nuclear swap deal

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TEHRAN: Iran said on Tuesday it expects a swift response from world powers on an accord to ship much of its low enriched uranium to Turkey, as UN Security Council member China backed the swap deal.

The accord signed with Turkey and Brazil has "checkmated" US efforts to slap new sanctions on Tehran over its controversial atomic program, an Iranian government-owned newspaper said.

Iran will notify the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of the accord "in writing, through the usual channels, within a week," foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said.

"We expect members of the Vienna group (the United States, France, Russia and the IAEA) to quickly announce their readiness" to implement the fuel swap, he told reporters.

The IAEA said it has received the text of the joint declaration by Iran, Brazil and Turkey but was now expecting Tehran to notify it directly of what commitments it had undertaken.

The so-called Vienna Group made an offer last October to ship most of Iran’s LEU out of the country in return for higher grade reactor fuel to be supplied by Russia and France.

Iran stalled on the deal insisting it wanted a simultaneous swap on its own soil, a proposal rejected by world powers.

Monday’s accord signed in Tehran commits Iran to deposit 1,200 kilograms (2,640 pounds) of low enriched uranium (LEU) in Turkey in return for fuel for a Tehran research reactor.

Tehran, already under three sets of UN sanctions over its defiant nuclear drive, has touted the agreement as a goodwill gesture which paves the way for a resumption of talks with world powers.

Despite skepticism in the West, especially the United States and Europe, China came out in support of the deal on Tuesday.

"We attach importance to and support this agreement," said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu, whose country holds veto power in the Security Council.

"We hope this will help promote the peaceful settlement of the Iranian nuclear issue."

The United States, leading international efforts to curb Iran’s atomic drive, has for months sought to persuade China, which has strong and growing energy and trade ties with Iran, to jump on board with fresh UN sanctions.

Washington said the Tehran accord would not halt or slow its drive for toughened sanctions, although US officials were still evaluating the accord, and planned to consult with international partners including Brazil and Turkey.

It remained concerned over the fact that Tehran has vowed to continue enriching uranium to the stepped-up level of 20 percent.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev welcomed the agreement but said further talks were needed, even as temporary Security Council members Brazil and Turkey said it removed the grounds for fresh sanctions.

Monday’s signing came after three-way talks in Tehran between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Ahmadinejad appeared to be in favour of last year’s UN-brokered deal but faced fierce criticism from hardliners and Iran’s conservative camp over any handover of the uranium stockpile.

The new accord, however, has sparked little criticism in Iran.

"In this national issue it was required that all views come together and the country moves forward with a unanimous voice," conservative parliament speaker Ali Larijani said, quoted by the official IRNA news agency.

Most newspapers on Tuesday welcomed the deal.

"America checkmated by Tehran three-way accord," said government daily Iran. Hardline newspaper Kayhan hailed "Iran’s intelligence and strength" and said it would emerge the "winner" whether world powers rejected or accepted the deal.

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