New York Times
By ELAINE SCIOLINO
PARIS - Iran and European negotiators have become deadlocked in their effort to reach a final agreement for Iran to suspend its production of enriched uranium in exchange for possible economic and political incentives, European officials said Wednesday.
After marathon negotiations in Paris last Friday and Saturday, Iran's foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, optimistically announced that his government had reached a "preliminary agreement" with senior negotiators of France, Germany, Britain and the European Union, but he emphasized that any suspension of uranium enrichment would be temporary.
The Europeans were more cautious, saying in public that progress had been made in the talks while acknowledging in private the existence of unresolved issues.
Those issues may mean the unraveling of an agreement intended to stave off a confrontation with Iran at a crucial meeting with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog organization, in Vienna on Nov. 25.
"They came back to the Europeans for more and the Europeans frankly said, 'No, a deal is a deal and that is that,' " a Vienna-based diplomat said.
At the November meeting, the countries that make up the leadership of the agency could decide to let the United States proceed with a still vague but serious proposal to refer Iran to the Security Council for possible sanctions. Iran has consistently denied the Americans' accusations that it has a secret program to build nuclear bombs under the cover of a civilian nuclear energy program.
One outstanding issue is highly technical but considered important by the Europeans. They have demanded that Iran stop its program to convert raw uranium into uranium tetrafluoride. Uranium tetrafluoride is a precursor to the form of uranium that is fed into centrifuges to enrich it for use as fuel that can be used either for peaceful purposes or to develop nuclear weapons, European officials said.
That demand goes beyond what the United Nations' watchdog agency requires, and the Iranians are arguing that they are being asked to do too much.
Another Iranian demand, so far rejected by the Europeans, is the timing of the delivery of some rewards for Iran, including the resumption of talks on a trade agreement between the European Union and Iran, the officials said.
Iran is also seeking precise assurances about a European offer to supply Iran with a light-water research reactor that would produce less fissionable material than could be used for making nuclear weapons, the Vienna-based diplomat added.
Iran wants the rewards up front as a "confidence-building measure," arguing that France, Germany and Britain failed to deliver the rewards it promised after Iran agreed in Tehran in October 2003 to suspend its production of enriched uranium.
A decision for Iran to suspend its enrichment of uranium is an extremely delicate political matter in Iran. The October 2003 agreement was excoriated by hard-line politicians and newspapers as proof that Iran was caving in to the Western demands and forfeiting its sovereign right to develop a peaceful nuclear program.
Iranian presidential elections are scheduled for May, and the nuclear issue is likely to play a large role in what is expected to be a brutal political campaign.