Iran agrees to freeze uranium programme

Posted in Iran | 15-Nov-04 | Author: Andrew Buncombe| Source: The Independent

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Hassan Rohani speaks with journalists in Tehran November 15, 2004.

Iran has agreed to suspend its uranium enrichment programme in an attempt to allay fears that it was being used to build nuclear weapons.

Hassan Rohani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, told the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), that Iran would freeze all activities associated with its uranium enrichment programme.

The agreement is expected to be made public today, when the final report of a two-year IAEA investigation into Iran's nuclear programme is also due to be published. The United States claims that Iran has been secretly developing weapons-grade uranium for the past 20 years under cover of its nuclear power programme.

The announcement follows weeks of negotiations with EU representatives.

A senior EU diplomat said Iran had agreed to all points of a preliminary deal hammered out in Paris a week ago. "It's a full suspension," said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It's what the Europeans were looking for."

Iran has stressed that the suspension is only temporary, but added that it would remain in place so long as negotiations continued over possible European aid for its nuclear power programme.

"We have accepted the suspension as a voluntary step and it does not create any obligations for us," said Mr Rohani's deputy, Hossein Mousavian, said on Iranian state television, emphasizing that his country viewed the decision as a confidence building move and not a legal obligation on the part of Iran.

As part of the agreement, "Europe will support Iran's joining the international group of states possessing the ability to manufacture nuclear fuel", once the suspension ends, Mr Mousavian added.

The EU diplomat said Iran had also fulfilled a key part of the deal by formally informing the UN nuclear watchdog agency of its decision, which makes it legally binding. Iran's stated intentions will be included in a report prepared by IAEA head, Mohamed ElBaradei.

The IAEA delayed circulating the report on Iran's nuclear activities to diplomats working with the agency to give French, German and British negotiators more time to work out differences with their Iranian counterparts over the weekend. The report is now expected to be released today.

The IAEA study on nearly two decades of clandestine activities that the United States asserts is a secret weapons programme will be reviewed by the agency's 35-nation board of governors when they meet on 25 November. They will then decide on actions, including possibly referring Iran to the UN Security Council, which could lead to sanctions, although Iran's move appeared to make it less likely that would happen.

Last week, diplomats said Iranian officials had presented British, French and German envoys in Tehran with an unacceptable version of the agreement.

The main area of dispute was over the 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.