Mon, Nov 08, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Iran reaches deal over nuclear program with EU

AFP , TEHRAN

Iranian and EU officials have reached a "preliminary agreement" on easing alarm over the Islamic republic's nuclear program following crucial negotiations in Paris, a top Iranian official said yesterday.

"We reached a preliminary agreement at the experts level, which means a framework that contains the main viewpoints of both sides," a top Iranian negotiator, Hossein Moussavian, told state television by telephone from Paris.

"This agreement is to be taken to the capitals of the four countries, and in the next days, if the capitals approve it, it will be announced officially," he added, asserting that he was "not pessimistic."

"Should the four countries be able too agree on a package in a not so distant future, there would be a crucial transformation in relations between Iran and the EU and the whole international community."

His announcement followed two days of talks between Iran and Britain, France and Germany on getting Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment in order to avoid being hauled before the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.

The US accuses Iran of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons under cover of its civilian atomic energy program and wants the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to refer Tehran to the Security Council when the agency meets in Vienna on Nov. 25.

Moussavian said the preliminary agreement included "a collection of political, economic, security, technological and trust-building cooperation regarding the future of Iran's peaceful nuclear activities."

But he refused to give any specific details pending its approval by "the most senior officials" in the Islamic republic as well as in the capitals of the EU's so-called "big three."

He also made no mention of whether Iran had agreed to meet EU demands that it halt its controversial work on the sensitive nuclear fuel cycle, activities that officials here insist are only aimed at producing fuel for civilian reactors.

The Europeans fear the process surrounding the enrichment of uranium could be eventually used by Iran to build a nuclear bomb.

"After the four capitals have agreed, we will begin discussions on implementing this agreement. The next round of discussions will not be so challenging, because the principles will have been set," Moussavian said, adding that he hoped the deal could get the green light as early as "next week."

"I must emphasize that all this is pending the agreement of the four capitals. If it is not approved, we will have to say these discussions failed. But I am not pessimistic," he told state television.

According to diplomatic sources, Europe's three powers are believed to have offered Iran nuclear technology, including access to nuclear fuel, increased trade and help with Tehran's regional security concerns in exchange for a halt to enrichment.

Tehran has until now resisted Europe's demand for an indefinite suspension, arguing that it would infringe its right to maintain a civilian nuclear power program.

Enrichment is permitted under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) -- the treaty overseen by the IAEA and to which Iran is a signatory -- if for peaceful purposes.

However Iranian officials have said they were open to maintaining a "voluntary" suspension -- but not a total halt -- of enrichment.

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