TWQ: Building Trust and Flexibility: A Brazilian View of the Fuel Swap with Iran - Spring 2011
April 1, 2011
In May 2010, Brazil and Turkey—then non-permanent members of the UN Security Council—ventured into unchartered waters by brokering an agreement to deal with the controversial Iranian nuclear program. Iran, in order to show its willingness to use its nuclear material for
peaceful purposes, agreed to have its uranium enriched outside its territory, specifically in Turkey. The deal called for Iran to send 1,200 kilograms of 3.5 percent-enriched uranium to Turkey in exchange
for 20 percent-enriched nuclear fuel to use in a scientific reactor in Tehran that produces medical isotopes. Although a nuclear weapon might require uranium enriched to a higher level, the 20 percent-enriched material could help Iran achieve that level quicker.
The United States specifically criticized the agreement because it did not address the continued production of uranium enriched to 20 percent inside Iranian territory (other members of the Security Council also criticized the agreement, but the United States was the most vocal). At the time the deal was announced, the international community was also working on a sanctions package to pressure Iran to suspend its enrichment activities and increase the transparency of its nuclear program. In fact, the day after the announcement, the permanent members of the Security Council forwarded a draft resolution for sanctions on Iran to the other members. The push for sanctions persisted even though
Iran had ignored previous resolutions from 2006-2008, and other diplomatic initiatives had also failed.
Brazil’s diplomacy in the negotiations of the fuel-swap agreement was intended not only to avoid international sanctions, which would damage Brazilian commercial interests with Iran, but also to consolidate Brazil’s position as a strong player in resolving disputes in order to raise its status in the eyes of the international community. Throughout its global nonproliferation policy, including the 2010 agreement with Iran, Brasilia continues to seek to defend the autonomy and sovereignty of non-nuclear weapon states and consolidate their right to develop peaceful nuclear activities.