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Iran makes key nuclear concession
Updated: 2004-11-29 09:46

Iran has struck a new deal with the EU on freezing its nuclear programme, ending a week of haggling that threatened to torpedo an agreement meant to help it avoid U.N. economic sanctions, Western diplomats say.

An Iranian technician works at a Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF) in Isfahan. Iran confirmed it is withdrawing a demand to exempt some equipment from a freeze on fuel cycle activities and accepts full suspension of uranium enrichment, a senior official told AFP.[AFP]
The agreement was to be presented to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Monday, lifting an immediate threat that Iran be referred to the U.N. Security Council over U.S. accusations it is trying to develop nuclear bombs.

But Western diplomats said on Sunday they feared Iran might yet find fresh loopholes in the deal with Britain, France and Germany which it could exploit to continue nuclear-related activities.

In a cliffhanger week of backroom haggling, Iran had asked that 20 centrifuges -- which enrich uranium for use as fuel in power plants or weapons -- be exempted from a deal it reached with the European Union's "Big Three" freezing key parts of its nuclear programme.

It withdrew that demand, which had threatened to wreck the entire deal, over the weekend.

A diplomat close to the IAEA told Reuters: "The IAEA received a letter from Iran regarding the 20 centrifuges. It seems to cover all the elements and appears to be acceptable." Details of the letter were not immediately available.

The deal reached with the EU trio requires Iran to freeze all work linked to the enrichment of uranium or plutonium separation -- both of which can yield material for atom bombs.

On Sunday, western diplomats said Tehran had also agreed with France, Britain and Germany on the final wording of a draft resolution on the deal and submitted it to the IAEA governing board for a vote on Monday.

"The resolution has been submitted to the members of the board," IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said.

The United States says Tehran is trying to gather the capability to build an atomic bomb. Iran, though oil-rich, says its nuclear programme is aimed solely at generating electricity.

Officials in France, Britain and Germany, running the talks with Iran on behalf of the European Union, declined comment on Sunday on the latest details of the deal.


The EU trio's resolution, which has been softened at least twice to accomodate Iran's many demands, was originally intended to make Iran's voluntary freeze a binding commitment.

But one Western diplomat familiar with the final text said that after Iran gave up the centrifuges the Europeans agreed to include language in the text saying that the suspension was not legally binding and would be temporary.

Washington dislikes both the EU-Iran deal and the resolution, but will do nothing to block them, diplomats said.

The EU trio first sought the enrichment freeze in October 2003 to try to allay fears that Iran was using its nuclear energy programme to develop bombs. But that deal fell apart when the Iranians resumed production of centrifuge components.

Hossein Mousavian, the head of Iran's delegation to the IAEA board of governors, told the semi-official Mehr news agency that Iran had reached an accord with the EU ensuring that the 20 centrifuges would not be sealed.

"Iran requested the centrifuges ... not be sealed off. But those centrifuges will be under the agency's surveillance."

One Western diplomat told Reuters the decision not to seal the 20 centrifuges but to monitor them with surveillance cameras was a "face-saving mechanism" that would enable Tehran to say that it had not backed down on the issue.

But another diplomat who follows the IAEA faxed Reuters a document that said Tehran had only pledged not to "test" the 20 centrifuges through December 15 -- the date Iran and the EU are scheduled to begin talks on a long-term nuclear arrangement -- and that what would happen after this date was left open.

"The Iranians hope that this agreement will now enable them to successfully get through the IAEA board of governors without closing off the possibility of continuing to develop centrifuges, even during the period of ostensible suspension," the faxed document said.

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