your connection to The Boston Globe

Iran agrees to total uranium-enrichment freeze

Last-minute pledge is made amid threat of possible UN action

WASHINGTON -- Dropping a last-minute demand yesterday, Iran agreed to fully suspend its nuclear programs and won some additional concessions from Europe for a resolution that excludes many of the Bush administration's proposals for increasing pressure on the Islamic republic.

The resolution, drafted by Britain, France, and Germany, is the mildest of the seven previous resolutions against Iran and does not include the explicit threat the White House had sought for reporting Tehran to the UN Security Council if it breaks the latest suspension.

Instead, the resolution, which The Washington Post obtained yesterday, calls on the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency to inform countries if Iran does not adhere to its pledges. But the weaker language makes clear that the agency's verification is ''essential" for knowing whether the commitment is being kept, and US officials said that wording at least made clear it was up to the agency, not Iran, to determine whether the agreement was being honored.

Washington tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade allies that Iran should be the target of more-aggressive UN inspections, as Iraq had been before the US-led invasion in March 2003. Iran has been under investigation by the nuclear agency for two years, and inspectors frequently visit the country. But under international treaty laws, Iran is not obligated to provide access to military sites and has been cooperating voluntarily with the investigation.

The agency's board will discuss, and possibly adopt, the resolution today at a meeting in Vienna, although diplomats cautioned there could be more negotiating.

US officials said they were disappointed with the resolution, hammered out over the past week in Vienna, but that President Bush had decided not to block its passage.

''People here are very unhappy about all this, but we have to go through the motions," an official in Washington said. ''We think Iran will break this deal soon enough, anyway."

The head of the US delegation in Vienna, Ambassador Jackie W. Sanders, was preparing a lengthy statement to read after the resolution is adopted making clear that the United States will seek to report Iran to the Security Council, which can impose economic sanctions or an oil embargo if it violates the suspension, diplomats said.

The resolution includes a sentence that says Iran's suspension is a ''voluntary, nonlegally binding, confidence-building measure," giving the nation a lot of maneuvering room if the United States tries to take it to task for failing the suspension.

The only toughly worded sentence in the two-page resolution criticizes Iran for concealing its nuclear program in the past but welcomes the corrective measures it has taken since October 2003 when it was first reported to the nuclear agency's board.

Iran's commitment to halt its nuclear programs was part of an agreement it reached with Britain, France, and Germany two weeks ago. In exchange for the suspension, the European trio promised Iran they would not support Washington's attempts to refer the case to the Security Council as long as the suspension holds.

The second phase of the agreement will begin next month, when diplomats from all four countries begin open-ended negotiations on nuclear, economic, and regional security issues aimed at reaching a final accord between Iran and Europe. European officials expect the talks to end with Iran giving up its nuclear ambitions.

Iran almost derailed the deal last week when it sent a letter to Mohamed ElBaradei, the nuclear agency's director general, announcing that it would continue research work with 20 centrifuges. After three days of international pressure, Iran sent a second letter yesterday rescinding the request but used it to win additional concessions from the Europeans, including the added mention that the suspension was voluntary.

The 20 centrifuges will not be under the nuclear agency's seal. Instead, diplomats said, the equipment will be monitored by agency cameras, and Iran has promised not to use the centrifuges for any purpose, diplomats said.

The deal was worked out during a meeting in Vienna last night. European diplomats left the session saying they were satisfied with the letter and then submitted the resolution to the agency's board. ''It's all been resolved," one European diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

But there were questions about the wording and the signature on the letter, and US diplomats said they would review it carefully.

Iran says its once-secret uranium-enrichment program is part of a future nuclear energy program. But the scale of its program has fueled suspicions that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon.

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives