The Cable

White House: We never told Turkey the fuel-swap deal was enough

Did President Obama give Brazil and Turkey the nod to pursue their recent 11th-hour fuel-swap deal with Iran?

That's what Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu claimed in a Wednesday press conference in Istanbul, appearing to contradict clear signals that the Obama administration didn't look favorably on the agreement.

"[Obama] paved the way for this process," Davutoglu said, claiming that Obama had personally encouraged Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Brazil's President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to pursue dialogue with Tehran when the three leaders met at last month's nuclear security summit in Washington.

It's true that Obama "encouraged" Turkey and Brazil to hold discussions with Iran, a White House official tells The Cable, but he never indicated that a deal like the one announced this week would be sufficient to alleviate international concerns or stave off sanctions.

Nor did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who spoke with Davutoglu by last Friday, give the talks an unqualified thumbs up. "During the call, the secretary stressed that in our view, Iran's recent diplomacy was an attempt to stop Security Council action without actually taking steps to address international concerns about its nuclear program," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

According to the White House, Obama did not mean to suggest that a fuel-swap deal alone would be enough to assuage U.S. concerns about Iran's nuclear program. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government would still have to prove to the International Atomic Energy Agency and the U.N. Security Council that its intentions were peaceful, stop enriching uranium to 20 percent, and comply with previous U.N. sanctions resolutions.

The New York Times reported Monday that Obama had sent "detailed letters in the last week of April outlining specific concerns" about Brazil and Turkey's planned diplomatic outreach to Iran -- concerns that apparently went unheeded.

The previous fuel-swap deal, which Iran initially agreed to in October but later repudiated, would have seen Iran ship its low-enriched uranium to Russia. There, it was to be enriched to a higher grade for use in Tehran's research reactor, ostensibly for medical purposes.

But in the intervening months, Iran continued to expand its nuclear program, and announced that it had the technology to enrich uranium to 20 percent -- closer to the grade needed to produce nuclear weapons.

"The president encouraged the Turks and Lula to talk to the Iranians about encouraging Iran to meet their international obligations," the White House official said. "That can include the [Tehran research reactor] aspect but that also must include the other parts of the deal in October."

The Cable

Special Briefing Skipper: Clinton’s trip to Asia

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. These are the highlights of Tuesday's special briefing by Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell and Senior Coordinator for China Affairs at the Department of Treasury David Loevinger:

  • In her first stop in Japan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet with Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, including a visit to Hatoyama's residence. Okinawa basing issues are sure to come up. Clinton is looking forward to hearing "quite clearly from them about what their plans are for the next steps associated with Okinawa," Campbell said.
  • After Japan, Clinton will go to Shanghai to stop by the American Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo. She will then move on to Beijing to meet Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, 16 U.S. government agency heads, and over 200 U.S. officials for the second round of the U.S.-China Security and Economic Dialogue. "It includes virtually all elements of the U.S. government, also key players from the Department of Defense and U.S. Pacific Command as well," Campbell said.
  • Prior to the start of the dialogue, Geithner will have lunch with Governor Zhou Xiaochuan, from the People's Bank of China and then dinner with Vice Premier Wang Qishan. On Monday, Geithner has the honor of delivering the opening remarks at the session, Loevinger said. The highest level meeting will be Tuesday afternoon, when Clinton and Geithner will meet with Premier Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao.
  • Loevinger said that the U.S. is still pressing China to move toward a more market based currency system, but didn't have any progress to report. "While we don't know when China is going to move, we remain confident that they're going to determine that it's in their interest to move to a more market-determined exchange rate," he said. He tried to pitch it as a way for China to avoid a housing bubble. "They're increasingly worried about the rise of housing prices. And a stronger, more flexible exchange rate would help them manage challenges they face in their own economy."
  • No word on when or even if Treasury will issue that report about Chinese currency manipulation that was supposed to come out in April. "And the best thing to encourage an early move by China, on the exchange rate, is to let these discussions play out," Loevinger explained, adding "I don't want to prejudge how those discussions are going to play out.
  • Moving on to Seoul, Clinton will meet with Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan, and President Lee Myung-bak, where the sinking of the South Korean corvette, the Cheonan, will be at the top of the agenda. The investigation report will come out Wednesday night, Campbell said. "I can tell you that the United States has been deeply and actively involved in all aspects of the investigation, and the United States strongly supports its conclusions as it will be rolled out this evening."
  • Campbell spoke about the violent unrest in Thailand and said he was in contact with Thai government representatives as well as the U.S. embassy in Bangkok. "There was widespread action. The government did move against the key encampments in the middle of the city," he said, "Many of those groups have been disbanded. There has been substantial burning, substantial looting throughout the city, and there are reports of sporadic incidents throughout the country as a whole."