Nuke deal on shaky ground
VIENNA, Austria – A tentative deal committing Iran to suspend activities that Washington says are part of a nuclear arms program was in jeopardy Friday, with diplomats suggesting Tehran had reneged on an agreement reached just days ago with European negotiators.
As envoys for both sides tried to salvage the deal, the International Atomic Energy Agency delayed a report on Iran’s nuclear activities that was scheduled for limited circulation Friday.
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 in his report an Iranian commitment to full suspension of uranium enrichment and related activities.
The IAEA overview of 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 at its Nov. 25 meeting. Based on the report, the board will decide whether to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council, which could call for sanctions.
President Bush has accused Iran of being part of an “axis of evil” with North Korea and prewar Iraq.
After ending talks in Paris with Iranian envoys last weekend, European diplomats said there was tentative agreement by Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment — which can be used to make nuclear arms — and all related activities.
The deal leaves open the exact length of the suspension but says it will be in effect at least as long as it takes for the two sides to negotiate a deal on European technical and financial aid, including help in developing Iranian nuclear energy for power generation.
But diplomats told The Associated Press on Friday 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 key dispute was over 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 processing of what is to be enriched is the main problem,” a diplomat said.
The diplomats — all of them briefed on the dispute and based in Vienna or other European capitals — said Iran was insisting 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.
Iranian officials denied they had reneged. A senior Iranian official on the Supreme National Security council who requested anonymity said his country’s response had been “positive,” but he refused to elaborate.
But former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani acknowledged there still was some way to go before Iran reached an agreement with the Europeans.
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