WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama indicated Monday that he isn't satisfied with a deal that Brazil and Turkey have negotiated with Iran to send some of its nuclear fuel abroad because it fails to address Tehran's refusal to suspend its uranium enrichment program.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issued a statement acknowledging the effort, but he added that like Britain and France, the U.S. would continue negotiations at the U.N. Security Council on a resolution imposing tougher sanctions on Iran.
"The proposal announced in Tehran must now be conveyed clearly and authoritatively to the IAEA before it can be considered by the international community," Gibbs said, referring to the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency. "Given Iran's repeated failure to live up to its own commitments, and the need to address fundamental issues related to Iran's nuclear program, the United States and international community continue to have serious concerns."
It would be a "positive step" if Iran transferred low-enriched uranium off its soil, Gibbs said. He noted, however, the Iranian declaration Monday that it intends to continue producing low-enriched uranium in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions after an October deal collapsed.
Gibbs also said that the Iranian-Brazilian-Turkish declaration was "vague" about whether Iran would meet with the so-called P5+1 — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — to discuss the international community's unresolved concerns about the Iranian nuclear program as called for by the agreement that fell apart in October.
It wasn't immediately clear whether Russia and China, which have opposed harsher sanctions, would use the new deal to delay the process. All five permanent members of the Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S. — have veto power.
Turkey and Brazil, which currently hold rotating Security Council seats, brokered the deal in a bid to prevent the crisis from worsening.
"My expectation is that after this declaration there will not be a need for sanctions," Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said in Tehran, Reuters reported.
Erdogan and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva clinched the deal in talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Under the agreement, Iran would ship 1,200 kilograms, about 2,640 pounds, of uranium enriched to about 3.5 percent to Turkey for storage. In return, Iran would be entitled to receive from Russia and France about 265 pounds of uranium enriched to 20 percent to fuel a research reactor in Tehran that's used to produce medical isotopes.
"Let us not deceive ourselves, a solution to the (low-enriched uranium) question, if it happens, would do nothing to settle the problem posed by the Iranian nuclear program," French government spokesman Bernard Valero said in a statement.
He said that "at the heart" of the issue was Iran's refusal to suspend uranium enrichment at its plant at Natanz, its continued construction of a heavy-water reactor at Arak and questions about the program's history, including alleged research projects with military applications.
Britain said the agreement failed to address concerns that Iran's uranium enrichment program was part of a covert nuclear-weapons program, a charge that Tehran denies. Iran kept the program secret from U.N. inspectors for 18 years.
"Iran has an obligation to assure the international community of its peaceful intentions," Alistair Burt, a junior British foreign minister, said in a statement. "The IAEA has said it is unable to verify this."
"That is why we have been working with our . . . partners on a sanctions resolution in the Security Council. Until Iran takes concrete actions to meet those obligations, that work must continue," Burt said.
The European Union said in a statement that the agreement fell short of what was needed. "This agreement, while being a positive step in the right direction, does not fully address the issue of Iran's nuclear program," it said.
The accord, details of which were announced by state-run Iranian media, is similar to the deal the IAEA proposed last October, under which Iran also would have shipped 1,200 kilograms of uranium enriched to 3.5 percent out of the country.
The material, which was about two-thirds of the low-enriched uranium that Iran had at the time, would have been further enriched to 20 percent, manufactured into fuel rods for the Tehran reactor and then sent back to Iran.
That accord fell apart after Iran began demanding changes in it. In the meantime, it's continued producing low-enriched uranium in violation of repeated U.N. demands that it suspend its program. It now has an estimated 2,300 kilograms — more than 5,000 pounds — of low-enriched uranium, so the amount it would send to Turkey under the new deal would be about half of its stockpile.
David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security, a former U.N. nuclear inspector who tracks the Iranian program, said it would take Iran only about a year to produce the same amount of low-enriched uranium it would send to Turkey.
He said that other parts of the deal also were problematic, including a provision that would allow Iran to declare unilaterally that the agreement was being violated and reclaim its low-enriched uranium from Turkey.
The agreement "appears to just be an attempt to derail (new) sanctions," he said.
(Margaret Talev contributed to this report.)
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY