VIENNA - The EU deal that got Iran to freeze key nuclear activities puts the United States on the spot since Washington must now decide whether to continue confronting Iran as an enemy or join Europe in trying to engage it, analysts and diplomats told AFP.
The UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency reported Monday that Iran has pledged to suspend all uranium enrichment activities as of November 22, in time for an IAEA meeting in Vienna November 25 that will decide whether to take the Islamic Republic to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.
The United States charges that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons and wants Tehran to be brought before the Security Council.
But Iran's agreement to suspend uranium enrichment to prove its peaceful intentions, and the IAEA's inability to find a "smoking gun" proving Tehran's alleged atomic weapons intentions after a nearly two-year investigation, leave the United States with almost no chance of convincing the 35 member states of the IAEA's board of governors to punish Iran.
The pressure, in fact, will be on the United States to change its policy, one leading analyst said.
"This will put a lot of pressure on the Bush administration to come up with a new policy," David Albright, head of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) told AFP by telephone.
He said the European trio of Britain, France and Germany which negotiated the deal with Iran for the European Union "have brought us to a good point and the United States has to find a way to be involved."
Albright said there was little chance a long-term agreement with Iran could work without Washington signing on to it, since the Iranians are looking for trade and security guarantees, as well as access to peaceful nuclear technology.
Another analyst, Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said the European Union can "alone not give Iran the security guarantees it needs.
"The United States has to join to have any chance of giving the Iranians a lasting deal," Cirincione said.
He said, however, that it was not clear whether the conservative administration of US President George W. Bush would do this, especially with moderate Secretary of State Colin Powell resigning.
The United States reacted cautiously Monday on Iran.
"We are making clear, this needs to be more than promises. This needs to be promises made and promises implemented," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters in Washington.
Powell described the Iranian letter to the IAEA confirming its enrichment suspension as "a little bit of progress, hopefully".
But Boucher expressed the fear that the Iranians were simply maneuvering to avoid the threat of the IAEA board sending the matter to the Security Council.
Cirincione said that hardliners in the administration, and at the State Department, "want to confront the threat of Iran, not in their view appease it."
"Administration policy is now to proceed aggressively with Iraq and then (when Iraq is pacified) deal with other countries, like Iran," Cirincione said.
The UN News and World Report magazine on Sunday cited intelligence reports that Iran has spies, weapons and attackers in Iraq, and may have a 500-dollar bounty on the head of each US soldier there.
Cirincione said this kind of view of Iran -- as a link in what Bush has labeled the "axis of evil" -- may lead the administration to "stand aside from EU-Iran negotiations (on a long-term agreement) and that may doom them."
A senior EU diplomat said in Brussels Monday that the 25-nation bloc would not "cut across" US policy on Iran.
"The US will make its own mind up as to what they want to do. But we will not want to do anything that cuts across US policy," he told reporters on condition of anonymity.
"The US knew what we were doing so it won't come as a surprise to them. Maybe there are tactical differences but the objectives are the same," the official added about European and US efforts to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons.