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."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.