Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Iran mulls critical nuclear decision - Sify.com

Iran mulls critical nuclear decision - Sify.com: "Iran mulls critical nuclear decision

Tuesday, 09 November , 2004, 20:30

Tehran: Iran was on Tuesday considering whether to approve a tentative agreement with Britain, France and Germany aimed at limiting its nuclear activities and easing international suspicions.
In the latest critical phase in the Islamic republic's stand-off with the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the clerical leadership has just days to avoid being referred to the Security Council for possible sanctions.

An Iranian negotiator announced Sunday that Iran and the European Union's "big three" -- Britain, France and Germany -- managed to strike a "preliminary agreement" to avert a confrontation after two days of tough talks in Paris.

The accord is centered on demands that Iran maintain and widen a suspension of its sensitive uranium enrichment activities.

According to European diplomats, the tentative deal still contains several sticking points -- including the length and extent of any halt on fuel cycle work.

The Europeans had been hoping that Iran abandon its fuel cycle work altogether, but Iran appears only willing to implement a temporary halt pending completion of a nearly two-year-old IAEA probe of its atomic drive.

"If the Europeans are rational, we can make some assurances ... but if they put their foot down, then our attitude will change," powerful former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was quoted Tuesday as saying by Hamshahri newspaper.

"This technology has been achieved by our people by our own means, and others cannot put an end to it," said Rafsanjani.

The United States accuses Iran of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons and wants the IAEA's board, which meets in Vienna on November 25, to refer the matter to New York. Iran says it only wants to generate electricity.

The IAEA is apparently holding up publication of a report on Iran until next week in order to have an eventual EU-Iranian agreement included in the text, a key document for the November 25 meeting, diplomats said.

The 25-nation European Union, in talks led by Britain, France and Germany that started in October, has so far said that Iran must indefinitely and fully suspend uranium enrichment activities.

But Iran insists its right to enrichment can not be called into question.

Enriched uranium, depending on its purity, can be used as fuel for a civilian power reactor or as the core of a nuclear weapon. Enrichment for peaceful purposes is allowed under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), of which Iran is a signatory.

"Iran is pushing for a time-specific duration, namely six months," a foreign diplomat said, but the European trio "refused and said the suspension must be maintained until a long-term agreement is reached" between Iran and the EU.

A second diplomat close to the talks said the European formula "is a clear-cut suspension, no doubt about it. It is tied to the (ongoing) talks and the talks are indefinite."

That question is now being discussed at the top of the Iranian regime.

"Nothing will be done without the approval of the supreme leader," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the spokesman for the Iranian parliament's foreign affairs and national security commission, Kazem Jalali, told AFP.

But both the so-called EU-3 and the Iranian side are under pressure from critics of the diplomacy.

US Assistant Secretary of State for arms control Stephen Rademaker said in Vienna on Tuesday that Washington was "very sceptical of Iran's good faith in these negotiations", even if it would "not stand in the way of their effort."

In Iran, the hardline Jomhuri Islami paper criticised the Paris talks as a "climbdown" by Iranian negotiators.

"We have to give up this doomed game right now. It is a big mistake for Iran to again accept a suspension even if it can decide the length," the paper wrote, calling IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei and the Europeans "charlatans.""

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