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Iran: IAEA Passes Resolution Endorsing Nuclear Freeze

Mohammad el-Baradei (file photo) The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) passed a resolution today endorsing Iran's freeze of uranium-enrichment activities that could lead to nuclear-reactor fuel or material for making nuclear bombs. The passage came after Tehran backed off an earlier demand to continue testing of 20 uranium-enrichment centrifuges despite a deal with three EU states to suspend such work.

Prague, 29 November 2004 (RFE/RL) - The Vienna-based IAEA has passed a resolution only mildly critical of Iran's cooperation with international arms inspectors.

The resolution is reported to call for "continuing investigations into sensitive aspects of Iran's nuclear program."

It also mentions "many breaches of Iran's obligations to comply" with previous IAEA demands to fully disclose its nuclear activities. But it notes that Tehran has taken "corrective measures" since coming under closer IAEA scrutiny in October 2003.

The resolution wording, proposed by the European Union, is considered likely to disappoint Washington, which had been pressing for the IAEA to take a tougher stand against Iran during its current review of the Iran nuclear crisis. The United States has repeatedly urged in the past that the UN nuclear agency refer Tehran to the UN Security Council for possible discussion of punitive measures, including economic sanctions.
The IAEA passed the resolution shortly after agency Director General Mohammad el-Baradei said today that inspectors had verified Tehran's claim to have fully suspended its uranium-enrichment activities.

Washington has charged Iran with pursuing efforts to develop a nuclear-weapons capability under the cover of operating a commercial nuclear-energy program. Iran have denied the charges.

The IAEA passed the resolution shortly after agency Director General Mohammad el-Baradei said today that inspectors had verified Tehran's claim to have fully suspended its uranium-enrichment activities.

"This [suspension] is clearly a positive step in the right direction," el-Baradei said. "It would help mitigate international concern about the nature of the Iranian program and, over time, should help to build confidence with regard to Iran's nuclear program."

He said the verification includes putting 20 disputed uranium-enrichment centrifuges under agency surveillance. Iran had earlier said it reserved the right to continue work with the 20 centrifuges, but then abandoned that demand yesterday.

Iran's earlier insistence on operating 20 centrifuges had threatened to torpedo a two-week-old deal between Tehran and three key EU states -- Britain, France, and Germany -- intended to lower international concern over Iran's nuclear program.

The EU-Iran deal calls on Iran to give up activities that could support a nuclear weapons-development effort in exchange for European technical help with Iran's commercial nuclear-energy program. The deal revives a similar but less precisely worded accord in 2003 that later fell apart amid disagreements over the terms.

Wrangling over terms has also characterized the bargaining over the new EU-Iran deal. It is unclear whether all the differences have now been fully resolved.

The chief of the Iranian delegation in Vienna, Hossein Mousavian, told journalists today that Tehran has agreed with the Europeans drafting the resolution that Iran's decision to suspend uranium enrichment is not a "legal obligation" but a voluntary step under their deal.

Mousavian said the resolution makes Tehran's position clear.

"The major issues with which we were concerned, you can find in this resolution," Mousavian said. "We emphasized that the suspension should be a voluntary suspension, just for confidence building and not as a legal obligation for Iran. Fortunately, this is very clear in this resolution."

But such insistence on the voluntary nature of Iran's suspension of dual-use activities could leave room for future bargaining by Tehran over whether they can be restarted in the future.

Washington has said it is skeptical of Iran's good faith in negotiating with the Europeans. But the United States has not rejected the "EU Three" efforts.

A U.S. State Department official told reporters that "we've seen this kind of commitment from Iran before," adding that "follow up is very important."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair downplayed those concerns today, saying it is the Europeans' intention to assure that Iran engages in a process of giving up dual-use activities in a verifiable way.

"I think the most important thing is to make sure that [the Iranians] are in a process where the [International] Atomic Energy [Agency] has got the ability to hold them to account for the [pledges] that they are giving," Blair said.