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Iran/EU: IAEA Chief Expresses Cautious Optimism Over Nuclear Deal

The director-general of the UN nuclear monitoring agency reacted today with cautious optimism to news Iran and leading countries of the European Union have reached a tentative deal on Tehran's controversial nuclear program. Iran said yesterday it has reached a preliminary deal that could see Tehran avert UN Security Council sanctions over its nuclear program.

Prague, 8 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei said he still has to confirm details of a tentative deal reached between the European Union's "Big Three," the United Kingdom, France, and Germany -- and Iran over Tehran's nuclear program:

"I am told it is still a very tentative agreement. It has not yet been confirmed," el-Baradei said. "I have been talking to both parties, and I would hope, however, that in the next few days, when they are going to regroup, that they would put the final seal of approval on that agreement. I think that it would absolutely be a step in the right direction."

El-Baradei made his comments in Sydney, Australia, at the start of an Asia-Pacific nuclear security conference.

Under the deal -- outlined on 6 November -- Iran would freeze all nuclear-fuel enrichment and reprocessing activities until it has reached a final agreement with the EU over a package of economic, technological, and security incentives. The goal would be for Iran to abandon activities that could potentially facilitate the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

The terms are said to be similar to an agreement reached last year, but the language is reportedly more detailed about what Iran must do and what the EU states will provide.

El-Baradei said he hopes the deal will include the suspension of uranium-enrichment activities in Iran as a sign of good faith by Tehran.

"What the international community is asking Iran, at least for now, is to suspend all [nuclear enrichment] activities as a confidence-building measure," el-Baradei said. "And I have been subscribing to that. I have been telling my Iranian colleagues: 'Do your utmost to create confidence, adopt a policy of full transparency, because that is a way you can then initiate a process of dialogue, which is very much needed between Iran and the rest of the world.'"
Washington wants the IAEA to refer Tehran to the Security Council when the agency meets in Vienna on 25 November.

Mohammad-Reza Djalili, a professor at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, said that news of the agreement is at a minimum a sign the two sides are still serious about negotiations.

"The only thing we can deduce is that negotiations are not interrupted and that both sides are trying to find a modus vivendi," Djalili said. "Iranians are doing everything to avoid the [UN] Security Council without definitively renouncing uranium enrichment. They want to reach an agreement on a [temporary] interruption of enrichment. Neither Europeans nor Iranians want to stop talks. There will be some more steps before 25 November."

Washington has accused Tehran of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of its civilian nuclear-energy program and wants the IAEA to refer Tehran to the Security Council when the agency meets in Vienna on 25 November.

Iran denies the charges, saying its nuclear program is only for energy.

At the security conference today, el-Baradei said the world faces what he called a "race against time" to prevent nuclear terror.

"In Asia-Pacific, you have a lot of nuclear material, you have a lot of radioactive sources. This is a danger that can occur anywhere," el-Baradei said. "As again I keep saying, we still have a lot of work to do, we are racing against time. We have to cross our fingers that nothing will happen. But what we are trying to do in this kind of conference here, is to raise awareness that we need to take preventive measures before a nuclear or radiological emergency were to occur."