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U.N. OKs Iran deal to suspend enrichment
The U.N. nuclear watchdog agency Monday endorsed Iran's agreement to suspend all uranium enrichment within a week, the key element of a deal worked out with European countries.
But the apparent victory for diplomacy falls short of U.S. demands for a permanent suspension ¡ª or scrapping ¡ª of Iranian activities that Washington asserts are meant to make nuclear weapons. Iran insists it only wants to generate electricity.
The agreement, detailed in a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, appeared to represent a breakthrough for the Europeans and to hurt a U.S. push to have Iran hauled before the U.N. Security Council for allegedly violating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The council could impose sanctions on Tehran.
The deal does not settle the enrichment issue and only buys Iran more time. The agreement commits Iran to suspend enrichment while it works out the details of an aid package with the Europeans or until negotiations collapse.
U.S. officials took a wait-and-see approach to the agreement. President Bush once labeled Iran part of an "axis of evil" with North Korea and prewar Iraq.
"We have seen a little bit of progress, hopefully, over the last 24 hours," Secretary of State Colin Powell said.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, "We all need to be a bit careful at this moment" since the administration had not seen the accord. And White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the administration will talk with Britain, France and Germany, which negotiated the deal.
In return for the suspension, Europe has been suggesting it would help Iran develop peaceful nuclear energy.
European officials said the agreement could generate international confidence that Iran's nuclear activities are peaceful. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the deal represents "a significant development in relations between Europe and Iran."
But privately, European Union diplomats in Vienna and other European capitals acknowledged that the agreement achieved less than the ideal of permanent suspension.
The agreement, on diplomat said, was a beginning. The idea, she said, was to "engage Iran (and) negotiate a long-term agreement on suspension" beyond the present short-term commitment. She spoke on condition of anonymity.
In Tehran, Hasan Rowhani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, emphasized that the freeze was temporary.
"In the agreement, there is no talk of cessation but only voluntary suspension" of enrichment, he said after the report was released to diplomats accredited to the Vienna-based IAEA. "This is a preliminary agreement that will lead us to a final agreement between Iran and the Europeans."
He added that Iran's full suspension did not include operations at a heavy water production plant being built in Arak, central Iran.
Under the agreement, a working committee would be formed within weeks to define what economic, technological, security and nuclear cooperation Europe will provide, Rowhani said. It will report back within three months.
The same agency report that cited Iran's pledge to freeze enrichment also said questions remain about whether Iran was trying to develop technology to make nuclear arms. It criticized Iran's "policy of concealment" up to about a year ago, when it started reluctantly cooperating with the IAEA.
All nuclear material that Iran declared to the agency in the past year has been accounted for, "and therefore we can say that such material is not diverted to prohibited (weapons) activities," said the report, made available to the AP.
But it also said the author ¡ª IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei ¡ª was "not yet in the position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials" that could have been used for a weapons program.
In a departure from previous reports, the document did not specifically say ElBaradei would report on Iran's activities at IAEA board meetings after Nov. 25. Instead, it said he would update the board "as appropriate."
Iran was expected to welcome that wording after months of urging the agency to close its file on the country. The United States, however, was likely to oppose any signal that pressure on Iran was easing.