TEHRAN - Some may see it as a climbdown but, by finally agreeing to international demands it suspend its sensitive nuclear work, Iran is likely to again escape the threat of sanctions and extract some concessions in the process.
In an 11th-hour deal with Britain, France and Germany struck late Sunday, the clerical regime agreed to freeze uranium enrichment-related activities to ease fears its fuel cycle work could be diverted to make an atomic bomb.
The suspension was demanded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog, in September but initially dismissed by Iran as "illegal" and "unacceptable".
Iran was at pains to point out that enrichment for peaceful purposes is permitted under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and accused the West of "double standards" for singling it out for sanction while leaving arch-enemy Israel free of any probing.
The regime also warned it could quit the NPT -- as did North Korea -- if it was referred to the UN Security Council.
This left the EU's "big three", who have been spearheading diplomatic efforts to get Iranian compliance with the IAEA, to hammer out a mutually acceptable accord -- in which Iran would be rewarded with economic, security and technological incentives.
European diplomats have noted that there was little appetite for sending the dossier to New York -- a move that could split the IAEA board along north-south lines, and then face opposition to any stiff sanctions from veto-wielding Security Council members China and Russia.
In addition, diplomats point to continuing Israeli-Palestinian violence, the situation in Iraq and fears over Saudi Arabia's stability as reason enough not to pick another fight in the region.
According to foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi, Iran's success in winning carrots while the United States has been brandishing a stick is the "best possible" result to what has been a tense stand-off.
Iran's agreement to suspend enrichment is likely to again stall efforts by Washington -- which accuses Tehran of seeking the bomb -- to have the issue sent to the Security Council when the IAEA next meets on November 25.
"Everyone is happy. It's a good deal," said one source close to the talks.
And top Iranian negotiator Hassan Rowhani told reporters that in the process, the Islamic regime had improved its international standing.
"We have never talked at such a level with the Europeans," he told reporters, saying he had won assurances of "close relations" in a joint letter from EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany.
As part of the accord and if the suspension is verified, the European Union is now obliged to deliver in talks due to begin in the first half of December.
"The agreement will provide objective guarantees that Iran's nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes. It will equally provide firm guarantees on nuclear, technological and economic cooperation and firm commitments on security issues," the text of the accord states.
"Once suspension has been verified, the negotiations with the EU on a trade and cooperation agreement will resume. The E3/EU will actively support the opening of Iranian accession negotiations at the World Trade Organisation."
It also said the "E3/EU will support the IAEA director general (Mohamed ElBaradei) inviting Iran to join the Expert Group on Multilateral Approaches to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle."
And while the text "recognises Iran's rights under the Non-Proliferation Treaty... without discrimination", it states that "Iran reaffirms... it does not and will not seek to acquire nuclear weapons".
This means that Iran has at least stayed true to its ambition to one day master the entire fuel cycle -- albeit at the cost of yet another delay.
But among Iran's powerful hardliners, there are critics.
"This smells of a surrender in the face of illegal European demands," wrote Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of the ultra-conservative Kayhan newspaper.