Tue, Nov 30, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Iran vows to stop enrichment activities

SOLUTION Tehran backed off from its earlier position and agreed not to exempt 20 centrifuges for nuclear research purposes, a sign that the row may be near an end

AP , VIENNA

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 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) yesterday to bring an end to a dispute that had threatened to go all the way to the UN Security Council.

Diplomats, from the EU and elsewhere, said the commitment -- sent by letter to the IAEA -- fulfilled demands that Iran include centrifuges in its total suspension of uranium-enrichment programs.

Just hours after the letter reached the Vienna-based agency, diplomats said that Iran had 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 reconvened yesterday, apparently ending a dispute that had threatened to escalate into a possible referral of Iran to the UN Security Council for defying the UN nuclear agency.

A senior diplomat with nuclear expertise told reporters the Iranian pledge appeared to contain no pitfalls and seemed to meet the European demands for full suspension.

However, it came with strings attached. A government official from a board member country told reporters 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 yesterday 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, the envoys said.

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 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 on 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.

Delegates were also to decide on further steps in policing Tehran's nuclear activities.

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 UN Security Council would not be the end of the world," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi had 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.

Western diplomats said the US -- which insists Iran is trying to make nuclear weapons -- was unhappy with the initial draft and felt it had been left out of negotiations on the text.

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