- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 7, 2004

TEHRAN — Hoping to avoid a U.N. showdown, Iran and the European Union’s three big powers reached a preliminary agreement over Tehran’s nuclear program, Iran’s chief negotiator said yesterday.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in the hard-liner-dominated parliament pushed for a bill banning the production of nuclear weapons in a gesture aimed at building international trust.

The preliminary agreement worked out in Paris with Britain, France and Germany could be finalized in the next few days, chief Iranian negotiator Hossein Mousavian told state-run Iranian television from the French capital, where talks wrapped up Saturday.

If approved, the deal would be a major breakthrough after months of threats and negotiations and could spare Iran from being taken before the U.N. Security Council, where the United States has warned it would seek to impose economic sanctions unless Tehran gives up all uranium enrichment activities — a program that can produce nuclear fuel or atomic weapons.

Diplomats in Austria familiar with the talks declined to discuss details. “One or two points remain outstanding, and they hope to resolve those outstanding points by Wednesday,” one diplomat in Austria said.

In proposals to Iran last month, Britain, Germany and France offered a trade deal and peaceful nuclear technology — including a light-water research reactor — if Iran pledged to indefinitely suspend uranium enrichment and related activities such as reprocessing uranium and building centrifuges used to enrich it.

Europe and Washington fear Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons, but Tehran denies such assertions, saying its atomic program has peaceful aims, including energy production.

“We had 22 hours of negotiations. … They were very difficult and complicated negotiations but we reached a preliminary agreement at the expert level,” Mr. Mousavian said. He said the four countries now must ask their governments to approve the accord.

The preliminary agreement appeared to mark a dramatic breakthrough, since Iranian officials have resisted indefinite or long-term suspension of nuclear enrichment, a process that Iran is permitted to pursue under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Tehran has signed.

Although it is not in breach of the treaty, Iran is under heavy international pressure to drop such plans as a good-faith gesture.

“If this is approved by all four parties, we will witness an important change in Iran’s relations with Europe and much of the international community in [the] not-too-distant future,” Mr. Mousavian said without elaborating on the agreement.

The Europeans had warned Iran that they will back Washington’s threat to refer the Islamic republic to the Security Council for consideration of sanctions unless it gives up all uranium enrichment activities before a Nov. 25 meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria.

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