Iran Agrees to Suspend Uranium Enrichment


New York Times

November 15, 2004

VIENNA, Austria (AP) -- Iran has given the United Nations a written promise to fully suspend uranium enrichment, diplomats said on Sunday, in an apparent bid to dispel suspicions that Tehran wants to build a nuclear bomb.

The move also would appear to blunt an American drive to take Iran before the United Nations for the imposition of sanctions.

By issuing the written commitment to the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency -- the International Atomic Energy Agency -- Iran dropped demands for modification of a tentative deal worked out on Nov. 7 with European negotiators, agreeing instead to continue a freeze on enrichment and to suspend related activities, diplomats told The Associated Press.

``Basically it's a full suspension,'' said one of the diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity. ``It's what the Europeans were looking for.''

Washington has argued that Iran's enrichment activities are part of a nuclear arms program. Uranium enrichment is a precursor process to building nuclear bombs.

``Basically it's a full suspension,'' said one of the diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity. But the diplomat added, Iran had not yet fulfilled a key part of the deal -- formally informing the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency of its decision and asking for its inspectors to monitor compliance to its commitment.

As negotiators for France, Germany and Britain struggled with the Iran to bridge differences over the weekend, the IAEA delayed a report on Iran's nuclear activities scheduled for limited circulation to diplomats accredited to the agency.

A diplomat familiar with the IAEA said the delay was meant to give the two sides a chance to resolve the dispute and allow agency head Mohamed ElBaradei to include an Iranian commitment to suspend its uranium enrichment and related activities in his report.

The IAEA survey on nearly two decades of clandestine activities that the United States asserts is a secret weapons program is being prepared for review by the agency's 35-nation board of governors when they meet Nov. 25.

Based on that report, they will decide on actions that include possible referral of Iran to the U.N. Security Council, which, in turn, could call for sanctions.

After ending talks in Paris with Iranian envoys last weekend, European diplomats said there was tentative agreement by Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment and all related activities. The suspension would be in effect for at least as long as it took for the two sides to negotiate a deal on European technical and financial aid, including help in the development of Iranian nuclear energy for power generation.

But on Friday the diplomats told The Associated Press that Iranian officials had presented British, French and German envoys in Tehran with a version of the agreement that was unacceptable to the three European powers -- the main negotiators of the deal -- and the European Union as a whole.

The key dispute was over the conversion of uranium into gas, which when spun in centrifuges can be enriched to lower levels for producing electricity or processed into high-level, weapons grade uranium, the diplomats said on condition of anonymity.

The diplomats -- all of them briefed on the dispute and based in Europe -- said that as of Friday Iran had insisted that the deal allowed it to process uranium into a precursor of uranium hexafluoride, the gas introduced into centrifuges for enrichment.

The diplomats said that was not allowed under the tentative deal reached in Paris.

Iran suspended uranium enrichment last year but has repeatedly refused to stop other related activities such as reprocessing uranium or building centrifuges, insisting its program is intended purely for the production of fuel for nuclear power generation.

A full suspension would be significant because it would commit Iran not only to continue its voluntary freeze on enriching uranium but also to stop the contentious activities linked to it.

The deal still falls short of U.S. calls for indefinite suspension if not an outright scrapping of Iran's domestic enrichment program.


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