November 26, 2004
Diplomats Say Iran Uranium Deal Salvaged
VIENNA, Austria - Iran and European negotiators reached a tentative compromise on a deal committing Tehran to freeze all uranium enrichment activities, diplomats said Friday, but the Iranian government still must approve the agreement.
One of the diplomats told The Associated Press that the compromise would mean Iran giving up its insistence that 20 centrifuges be exempted from the freeze.
But instead of accepting seals from the International Atomic Energy Agency on the equipment, the centrifuges would be monitored for inactivity by IAEA cameras, said the diplomat, who is familiar with Iran's nuclear dossier and who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Other diplomats said details remained to be completed before the agreement is formally announced, but confirmed the essence of the deal.
Senior Iranian delegate Hossein Mousavian described the dispute as "not a major issue" and said he expected a response from Tehran by Saturday at the latest. The meeting was adjourned until Saturday afternoon to await that response and put the final touches on the Iran resolution.
Mousavian said Iran was "very close" with France, Germany and Britain on the language of the resolution.
Iran's interpretation of its deal with the European Union to freeze all activities linked to uranium enrichment - which can produce both nuclear fuel and the material for the core of atomic warheads - had raised fears that the agreement would be scuttled.
Iran had demanded that it be allowed to operate 20 centrifuges - although the EU says the Nov. 7 deal mandated a suspension of all activities related to enrichment, including running the centrifuges, which spin gas into fuel-level or weapons-grade uranium - at least while the two sides discuss a pact meant to provide Iran with EU technical and economic aid and other concessions.
The proposed solution - video cameras instead of agency seals - would allow the Iranians to save face, said an EU delegate to the meeting
The proposed deal also commits Iran to a pledge not to reprocess plutonium - which it would be able to do in several years' time, once it completes work on a heavy water reactor in the city of Arak.
With the EU deal envisaging a light-water reactor for Iran - from which extraction of weapons-grade nuclear material is difficult - diplomats said the Europeans hoped Iran would not complete its heavy water facility.
A report summarizing 1 1/2 years of IAEA investigations says the agency remains unable to determine if nearly two decades of Iranian nuclear activities were purely peaceful or if the government had a secret weapons agenda.
But the main issue is Iran's interpretation of its deal with the European Union to freeze all activities linked to uranium enrichment, which can produce both nuclear fuel and the material for the core of atomic warheads.
Mousavian, the chief Iranian delegate, said his country "is committed to suspension" as he headed into a meeting with EU negotiators. Asked about the terms, he said, "That's what we need to talk about."
Afterward, he spelled out what Iran wanted in the resolution: a commitment to close Iran's nuclear file at the IAEA; no "trigger mechanism" and no "special" policing of the country's nuclear activities.
The Europeans say the deal committed Iran to full suspension of enrichment and all related activities while the two sides discuss a pact meant to provide Iran with EU technical and economic aid and other concessions.
On the other main agenda item Friday - South Korea - the board criticized Seoul for past illicit plutonium and uranium experiments but refrained from tougher options, including possible referral to the U.N. Security Council.
A statement from Ingrid Hall, the Canadian chairwoman of the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors, left open the option of harsher action, however, saying Seoul would continue to be monitored. That suggested that referral to the Security Council remained a possibility should new evidence emerge linking the country to other activities that contravened the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
"We think it was a good conclusion to the (South) Korean case," said Joon Oh, a senior South Korean delegate.
In two secret South Korean nuclear experiments revealed earlier this year, the country produced minute amounts of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium, but an IAEA report says there was no evidence they were applied to an arms program.