Tuesday, September 07, 2004

New Zealand Herald - Latest News

New Zealand Herald - Latest News: "Iran nears deal on renewed nuclear freeze

08.09.2004 11.25 am

VIENNA - Iran has agreed in principle to renew a freeze of some sensitive nuclear activities in a move apparently aimed at easing pressure ahead of a UN nuclear watchdog meeting next week, diplomats said on Tuesday.

Details of the deal were not immediately clear and have yet to be finalised. However, two diplomats said it would include halting production, testing and assembly of centrifuges.

Iran pledged last year to suspend all enrichment-related activities but has since resumed building centrifuges and last week said it intended to process 37 tonnes of raw uranium into uranium hexafluoride, the feed material for centrifuges.

Centrifuges enrich uranium for use in power stations or -- if enriched further -- nuclear bombs.

"Iran said this weekend that they would come back to the suspension. (IAEA chief Mohamed) ElBaradei is trying to work out the details with the Iranians," a Western diplomat on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board told Reuters.

Washington says Iran's uranium enrichment programme is aimed at making material for nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charge, saying it is only interested in generating electricity.

Negotiations between Iran and ElBaradei took place at the weekend. The European Union's "big three" -- France, Britain and Germany -- who negotiated the original suspension, followed proceedings closely, diplomats said.

Iran's ambassador to the United Nations in Vienna would neither confirm nor deny that talks had taken place. Officials in Tehran were not immediately available for comment.

All the diplomats told Reuters it was unclear if uranium hexafluoride production would be included in the suspension.

"It would include a suspension of centrifuge production, assembly and testing. It's unclear what the status of (uranium hexafluoride) would be," the Western diplomat said.

One nuclear expert said the uranium hexafluoride Iran intends to produce would hypothetically be enough for roughly five nuclear weapons.

Iran's announcement provoked the wrath of the United States, Iran's harshest critic.

"Iran's announcements are further strong evidence of the compelling need to take Iran's nuclear programme to the Security Council," US Undersecretary of State John Bolton said.

Diplomats at the United Nations, however, say Washington has little support for such a move.

The three EU powers, frustrated by Iran's lack of transparency, are planning to propose a board resolution but have so far been unable to agree on how critical it should be.

"There is no consensus on a resolution. The Brits want a tough resolution and the Germans would prefer to avoid that. The French are undecided," one diplomat said.

The European Union, the United States and the IAEA condemned Iran in June after it said it intended to resume assembling and testing centrifuges as well as making centrifuge components.

The IAEA's sixth report in its two-year investigation into Iran's nuclear programme said many questions remained unanswered, including the origin of enriched-uranium particles found in Iran and work on advanced P-2 centrifuges.



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