Reuters: The European Union's three big powers are "pretty close" to a deal with Iran that would freeze Tehran's nuclear
fuel enrichment and reprocessing activities, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has said. Solana told Reuters in an interview that if an agreement was reached there would be no reason to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council for sanctions over its disputed programme. Reuters

By John Chalmers

THE HAGUE - The European Union's three big powers are "pretty close" to a deal with Iran that would freeze Tehran's nuclear fuel enrichment and reprocessing activities, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has said.

Solana told Reuters in an interview that if an agreement was reached there would be no reason to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council for sanctions over its disputed programme.

"Progress has been made and we are waiting now for the final response from Iran," he said, referring to a tentative agreement which was hammered out in Paris at the weekend by an Iranian delegation and officials from Britain, Germany and France.

"It's very difficult to give a definition of how close we are but my feeling today is that we are pretty close to having an agreement ... let's hope for new developments in the coming hours, days," Solana said.

EU diplomats said after the Paris talks on Sunday that the agreement now just needed a go-ahead from Iran's clerical leadership.

Washington wants Iran's case sent to the Security Council but agreed last month to give the EU trio a final opportunity to negotiate a solution with Iran, which says its nuclear plants will only be used for a civilian atomic energy programme.

The EU three told Iran it must freeze uranium enrichment -- a process used to purify uranium into nuclear reactor fuel or to make bomb-grade material -- before the November 25 board meeting of the U.N.'s atomic watchdog or face the Security Council.

Solana, asked if the deal in the offing would bind Tehran to freezing all nuclear enrichment and reprocessing activities, said: "That is the basic element of the agreement".

He declined to give further details.

Asked if there was now much less chance Iran would be referred to the Security Council, Solana said:

"I think if we get an agreement we will not see any reason why ... (but) we don't have much time because, as you know, we have to prepare for the (November 25) meeting ... ".