- The Washington Times - Monday, November 15, 2004

Washington reacted skeptically yesterday to the news of a short-term negotiated solution between Iran and Europe whereby Tehran said it would temporarily freeze its uranium-reprocessing activities.

European policy-makers, however, hailed the agreement as an important step toward a long-term settlement.

In the deal cut with Britain, France and Germany, Iran managed to duck being brought before the U.N. Security Council, frustrating U.S. demands that Iran be punished for what it claims is Tehran’s covert nuclear-weapons program.

“It is an attempt by Iran to forestall being reported to the Security Council and an attempt to separate us from our European allies,” said a U.S. government official familiar with the issue.

“It’s not OK with us,” the official said, but then added: “It’s worth something. The Europeans will have told the Iranians if they screw this up, they will report them to the Security Council.”

The administration repeatedly has demanded that Iran permanently stop enriching uranium, seen as a potential first step toward developing nuclear arms. Iran, a major oil producer, insists that its nuclear program is geared only toward generating electricity.

The White House took a cautious approach to the announcement yesterday, with spokesman Scott McClellan saying that Washington wanted to discuss the accord further with its allies.

“We will have more to say after we’ve had the opportunity to learn more about the specific details,” Mr. McClellan said. “At this point, we have not had that opportunity.”

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States will “be looking to the International Atomic Energy Agency to be able to verify the commitments on suspension and to be able to report, we hope, if the Iranians really do comply.”

But France and Britain both heartily welcomed Iran’s pledge to suspend uranium enrichment by Nov. 22 as an important step in the drawn-out diplomatic effort to bring Iran back into the international fold.

“We believe that the conclusion of this agreement can both allow for confidence-building in respect of Iran’s nuclear program and represent a significant development in relations between Europe and Iran,” said British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) yesterday issued a report stating that all the declared nuclear material in Iran had been accounted for.

But IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei added that the agency was “not yet in the position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials” that could be used in a weapons program.

The deal between Tehran and the three European nations revealed that Iran was looking for a comprehensive aid and trade package with Europe in exchange for a longer-term agreement.

The U.S. government official predicted that a final accord would be months, if not years, away.

Details of the current pact were not clear, and Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rohani, insisted Iran’s ultimate goal was a full nuclear-fuel cycle, including uranium enrichment — deemed legal under IAEA protocols.

“It is no problem if Iran wants to start uranium enrichment,” Mr. Rohani said on state television. “Based on the agreement, it is said the Europeans will support Iran to become a member of the fuel-cycle club.”

Mr. Rohani said Iran hoped that the deal with Europe would help nudge Iran off the nuclear agenda of the IAEA, where the United States has been holding Tehran’s feet to the fire regarding its nuclear ambitions.

Europe won two important concessions from Tehran in the deal — a suspension on the production of uranium tetraflouride, a precursor to the gas used in centrifuges, and the length of that freeze.

In exchange, once the suspension is verified, Europe will actively support Iran’s negotiations to enter the World Trade Organization and restart a trade and cooperation agreement it had with Tehran.

“This is a big deal for Iran,” said Valerie Lincy, nuclear-arms control research associate at the Wisconsin Project. “If they had not arrived at an agreement, there was a pretty strong chance Europe would have supported the Security Council option.”

But whether the United States would endorse the deal, and how warm its endorsement is, is an open question.

“It’s not a defeat, and it’s not a victory. It’s more of a wait-and-see,” she said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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