November 29, 2004
Diplomats: Iran OKs Full Enrichment Freeze
VIENNA, Austria - Iran agreed not to test any centrifuges as part of a total suspension of nuclear activities that can yield weapons-grade uranium, clearing the way for the U.N. nuclear agency to bring an end to a dispute that had threatened to go all the way to the U.N. Security Council.
Diplomats, from the European Union and elsewhere, said the commitment - sent by letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna - fulfilled demands that Tehran include centrifuges in its total suspension of uranium-enrichment programs.
Just hours after the letter reached the agency, diplomats said that Iran reached agreement with the European drafters of a resolution on the language of text outlining how to police the suspension.
That cleared the way for the agency's board to adopt the resolution when it reconvenes Monday, apparently ending a dispute that had threatened to escalate into possible referral of Iran to the U.N. Security Council for defying the agency.
A senior diplomat with nuclear expertise told The Associated Press the Iranian pledge appeared to contain no pitfalls and seemed to meet the European demands for full suspension.
But it came with strings attached. A government official from a board member country told The Associated Press that France, Germany and Britain had accepted an Iranian demand to further water down the language of a draft resolution they wrote for adoption by the board of the IAEA on ways of policing the suspension.
The text to be adopted Monday now includes an extra phrase emphasizing that the suspension is not a legal or binding obligation on Tehran's part, he said.
Under the agreement, the 20 centrifuges Iran had previously wanted exempted would not be placed under IAEA seals but monitored by cameras, said the diplomats.
A senior member of the Iranian delegation to the IAEA - who demanded anonymity - confirmed both his country's offer of full suspension and the changes to the resolution text.
The letter was received by the IAEA - the U.N. nuclear agency - less than a day before its board was scheduled to reconvene in Vienna amid a building crisis on the issue of enrichment suspension.
The meeting was adjourned in disarray Friday. The pause was meant to give time for the Iranian government to approve a total freeze of its program, which can produce both low-grade nuclear fuel and weapons-grade material for the core of nuclear warheads.
The dispute about what constituted full suspension had dominated the meeting.
Iranian officials had suggested the issue was not up for debate only hours before details emerged of their letter to the agency.
"Referral to the U.N. Security Council would not be the end of the world," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters in Tehran earlier Sunday - alluding to the possibility that the board would ask for Security Council involvement unless Iran accepted a total suspension that included the centrifuges.
The Europeans say the deal committed Iran to full suspension of enrichment and all related activities - at least while the two sides discuss a pact meant to provide Iran with EU technical and economic aid and other concessions.
But Iran came to Thursday's opening day of the IAEA meeting with demands that it be allowed to run the 20 centrifuges - which can spin gas into enriched uranium - for research purposes.
Iran's letter came after weekend talks on the dispute between British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Hassan Rowhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and his country's point man on nuclear matters.
As the clock ticked down to Monday, EU officials and delegates spoke of the growing likelihood of tough action at the board meeting if Iran remained defiant - including the start of work on a harsh resolution that could include the threat of U.N. Security Council action.
That resolution would have replaced the draft written by France, Germany and Britain containing intentionally weak language on how any freeze would be monitored by the agency in an attempt to entice Tehran to sign on to total suspension.
Western diplomats said The United States - which insists Iran is trying to make nuclear weapons - was unhappy with the draft and felt it had been left out of negotiations on the text.
On the Net:
International Atomic Energy Agency: www.iaea.org