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In compromise, US softens tone on Iran

Accepts resolution despite wariness on nuclear arms

VIENNA -- Accepting painful compromises, the United States agreed with key European nations yesterday to tone down criticism of Iran for its continued nuclear secrecy.

Washington also accepted a draft resolution containing some praise of Tehran's willingness to open its nuclear programs to outside inspection.

Both sides signed off on the draft document prepared for a high-level conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency after days of grueling negotiations aimed at finding the proper mix of praise and criticism.

The United States insists Iran is interested in making nuclear weapons. Washington wanted the meeting to condemn Iran for not fully living up to pledges to reveal all past and present nuclear activities while keeping open options for future involvement by the UN Security Council.

France, Germany, and Britain, however, wanted to focus on Iranian cooperation with the IAEA, which began only after the discovery last year that Tehran had plans to enrich uranium and secretly conducted other tests with possible weapons applications over nearly two decades.

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei told reporters negotiations were continuing on final language. The text of the document still must be approved by all 35 nations of the IAEA board of governors. But with the trans-Atlantic rift resolved, the greatest hurdle to agreement on Iran appeared to be out of the way.

The compromise reflected the obstacles faced by Washington in its effort to deal harshly with Iran.

When the issue first came up before the board last year, the United States pushed to have Tehran called before the UN Security Council for possible sanctions, arguing that Iran had violated the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

But it has been repeatedly forced to back down in the face of widespread resistance at the board. The consensus text, made available to the Associated Press yesterday, made no direct mention of the Security Council.

The text criticizes Iran for not fully living up to its pledge to be completely open about past and present nuclear activities.

It "notes with the most serious concern that . . . [past] declarations made by Iran . . . did not amount to the correct, complete, and final picture of Iran's past and present nuclear program."

The text also slams Iran for "failing to resolve all questions" about uranium enrichment, which can be used to make weapons, saying the agency "deplores" the lapse.

But it praises Iran for signing an agreement throwing open its nuclear programs to full and pervasive IAEA perusal and "recognizes" Iran's cooperation with agency investigations, even while calling on Iran to "intensify its cooperation."

In Tehran, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said he hoped the IAEA ultimately would come to agree with Iran's assertion that all its nuclear activities are "for peaceful purposes."

The rift over Iran had led to unusual strains between Washington and its key European allies. US Undersecretary of State John Bolton complained in a letter sent to the French, German, and British governments that their stance was hurting the common effort to get Iran to comply with its promises for full nuclear disclosure, diplomats said.

"That, of course resulted in some pretty harsh words in reply" to Washington, a senior European diplomat told AP.

Besides Iran, Libya is also on the agenda, with ElBaradei describing both nations as being in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

But with Libya acting on pledges made last year to scrap its programs for weapons of mass destruction, the focus at the meeting was on Iran.

In an IAEA report last month, Tehran was accused of continuing to hide evidence of nuclear experiments, leaving it to agency inspectors to unearth them. The dossier dealt Iran a setback in its efforts to convince the world that its nuclear program is peaceful and that it is cooperating with the UN agency.

The report mentioned finds of traces of polonium, a radioactive element that can be used in nuclear weapons, and expressed concerns with the discovery of a previously undisclosed advanced P-2 uranium centrifuge system -- a finding that the US administration said raises "serious concerns" about Tehran's intentions.

Iran has insisted its interest in uranium enrichment is only geared at generating power and not to arm warheads.

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