Brussels, 15 November 2004 (RFE/RL) – EU officials today confirmed a breakthrough in talks with Iran.
A senior EU diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Iran has agreed to suspend its uranium-enrichment program. If confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the suspension is likely to be enough to avoid the matter reaching the UN Security Council.
Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rohani, said today that “Iran is planning to suspend uranium conversion activities from 22 November.” Iran wants the IAEA to confirm its temporary suspension before the IAEA’s board of governors meets in Vienna on 25 November.
An IAEA confirmation would bolster Tehran’s argument that it has only a peaceful nuclear-energy program. It would also help Tehran deflect efforts by Washington to convince the IAEA’s member states that Tehran should be referred to the UN Security Council for lack of cooperation in proving it has no weapons-development activities. Any referral to the Security Council would pave the way for possible discussion of punitive measures.
The United States has repeatedly charged that Tehran is seeking to develop a covert capacity to develop nuclear weapons.
The European Commission today also welcomed Iran’s termporary suspension of its uranium-enrichment program. Commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin called the deal a “breakthrough.”
“Obviously we’re all delighted that there does indeed seem to have been a breakthrough, an agreement seems to have been reached in a positive direction, and we’re looking forward to reading the chief inspector of the IAEA’s report [on Iran’s overall cooperation] later on which will now incorporate the outcome of those negotiations," Udwin said.
The senior EU diplomat who spoke with RFE/RL privately said that the deal has two parts. First, Iran has agreed to stop all enrichment-related activity. The EU side -- represented by Britain, Germany, and France -- in turn commits itself to not referring the issue to the UN Security Council.
The EU diplomat said that what he described as a “bargain” also establishes a “structure” for a long-term agreement. This will include further reassurances on Iran’s nuclear program, promises of transfer of nuclear technology to Iran, EU cooperation, and addressing what the official called “security issues” affecting Iran.
As soon as the IAEA verifies that Iran is abiding by the initial deal, the EU will also relaunch the currently suspended trade talks with Iran.
Spokeswoman Udwin said this commitment was already present in a declaration adopted by EU leaders at their Brussels summit earlier in November.
“If there were a successful conclusion [to the negotiations], and as soon as suspension is verified, [the Brussels summit makes it clear that] there would be an agreement that negotiations on a trade and cooperation agreement could resume,” Udwin said.
This is expected to take place shortly after the IAEA’s 25 November meeting on Iran.
The senior, anonymous EU source said the deal has left the EU “partially reassured,” and is seen as first step toward a longer-term accommodation. A final deal is expected within three months.
When Iran signed the additional UN protocol allowing for strict IAEA inspections, activities were discovered the international community had “not been told about and had not expected.”
The EU diplomat said the United States had been kept fully abreast of the developments and would not find the deal “a surprise.” He said the EU wouldn’t want to do “anything that would cut across U.S. policy” and will proceed with the “advice and consent of the U.S.”
He said Russia, too, knew “what was going on,” having been kept informed via Group of Eight contacts. He said the EU believes Russia will welcome the deal.
The EU official also threw some light on the background of the controversy about Iran’s nuclear program. He said it has fully taken place under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), under which the peaceful use of nuclear energy is legal for all signatories.
The problem, the official said, was that “a very large number of undeclared activities” were conducted by Iran. When Iran signed the additional UN protocol allowing for strict IAEA inspections, activities were discovered the international community had “not been told about and had not expected.”
The EU official said suspicion was aroused as most NPT countries do not enrich their own uranium, but import it. Depending on whether the enrichment is of “low” or “high” grade, the result can be used for, respectively, reactors or bombs.
He said enrichment programs tend to lead to questions. One answer could be the countries in question wish to be “self-sufficient, “but it is “equally possible” that they could be developing nuclear weapons.
The EU diplomat stressed however, that “nobody wants to say that this is what Iran is doing”, adding that “at least this possibility was open.”
The official said the new deal “fills out” the agreement that was signed between Iran and the three EU countries just over a year ago. That earlier agreement, which subsequently broke down, left enrichment activity largely undefined.
The agreement now includes enrichment, the production of the so-called feedstock [uranium tetrafluoride and uranium hexofluoride gas that can be spun in high-speed centrifuges to produce enriched uranium], and the manufacturing of centrifuges used for enrichment.