Reuters: Iran failed on Thursday to give a definitive answer to
an EU demand it freeze sensitive nuclear activities or face referral to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions, a diplomat familiar with the talks said. Reuters

By Louis Charbonneau and Paul Hughes

VIENNA/TEHRAN - Iran failed on Thursday to give a definitive answer to an EU demand it freeze sensitive nuclear activities or face referral to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions, a diplomat familiar with the talks said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the EU diplomat said Tehran's response to a tentative agreement hammered out with the EU in Paris last weekend, while "not too disappointing" had not produced the clear and final answer the EU had wanted.

The diplomat declined to comment further on the contents of the Iranian answer, which he said was now being studied in the capitals of Britain, Germany and France after being handed to their ambassadors at a meeting in Tehran.

The EU has said it will back U.S. calls for Iran to be reported to the Security Council if it does not suspend potentially weapons-related activities such as uranium enrichment before the next board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Nov. 25.

A Western diplomat close to the IAEA confirmed Iran had not delivered a letter, as it must, to announce the start date for the suspension and invite the UN agency to verify it.

The EU and IAEA had urged Iran to announce the suspension by Thursday for it to be incorporated into the latest IAEA report on Iran which had been due to be circulated to board members on Friday.

British officials had also hoped Prime Minister Tony Blair would be able to present Iran's nuclear agreement to President Bush on Thursday when he becomes the first world leader to visit Bush since his re-election last week.

LOOKING FOR SWEETNERS

Washington says Iran's nuclear energy program is a front for developing a bomb and has given lukewarm backing to the EU initiative to engage with Iran over the nuclear standoff.

Oil-rich Iran denies wanting nuclear technology for anything besides power generation.

Hossein Mousavian, one of Iran's top security officials and a member of the Iranian delegation which has negotiated with the EU, told Reuters earlier on Thursday he was optimistic Iran's leadership would accept the deal.

But diplomats have said Iran was looking for the EU to sweeten the agreement by offering swift incentives, such as the immediate resumption of stalled trade talks, in return for agreeing to the enrichment freeze.

"Iran wants something up front if it's going to suspend enrichment, not just promises. But the Europeans have refused," a diplomat said.

Another sticking point in the talks concerns the preparation of uranium for the enrichment process. The EU wants all uranium conversion activities halted, while Tehran wants to continue with some conversion work.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told Germany's parliament the talks with Iran were "anything but easy."

"Only the full and lasting suspension of enrichment activities ... by Iran can open the way for results-oriented talks on long-term cooperation," Fischer said.

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