New York Times: The governments of France, Germany and Britain are studying a letter delivered Sunday by Iran in which it pledged to suspend uranium enrichment activities temporarily in exchange for economic and political incentives, European officials said. New York Times
By ELAINE SCIOLINO
PARIS – The governments of France, Germany and Britain are studying a letter delivered Sunday by Iran in which it pledged to suspend uranium enrichment activities temporarily in exchange for economic and political incentives, European officials said.
The officials said it was unclear whether Iran had agreed to all the conditions set out in marathon talks in Paris last weekend with senior officials from France, Britain, Germany and the European Union or had inserted new conditions that could not be accepted.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the diplomacy between the Europeans and Iran is so sensitive, said the letter had been delivered to the ambassadors of the three countries in Tehran and to the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency in Vienna and would have to be scrutinized Monday before any announcement of a deal was made.
“All three governments need to examine the text carefully to see if this is what we want,” said one British official in London.
A French official in Paris said an issue of such magnitude could not be rushed, adding, “We need to get as clear a deal as we can.”
However, at the International Atomic Energy Agency, as the watchdog agency is called, the mood was more upbeat.
A Western diplomat connected to the agency said: “A letter has been received from Iran confirming that it will implement a full suspension of its uranium enrichment program. It’s what the Europeans asked Iran to do.”
The agency is prepared to include Iran’s new pledge in its comprehensive special report on Iran’s nuclear activities, expected to be released Monday.
But the three European governments are particularly cautious about a premature embrace of Iran.
The foreign ministers of the three countries brokered a deal, announced with much fanfare in Tehran 13 months ago. In it, Iran agreed to suspend its production of enriched uranium, which can be used in nuclear energy or nuclear weapons programs, and to submit to more intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities.
After Iran violated the agreement, officials from the three countries acknowledged that the deal had been made too hastily and that the language of the final accord was too vague and open to misinterpretation.
In Tehran on Sunday, Hassan Rowhani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, announced that the letter had been given to the three ambassadors. Mr. Rowhani, who conducted the negotiations with the Europeans last year and who reports directly to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the suspension would not be indefinite. Rather, he said, it would continue “during the period of talks” with the European Union on the entire package deal, which includes a long list of incentives for Iran.
“We have agreed to suspend nearly all activities related to enrichment,” Mr. Rowhani was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse in Tehran after meeting with the ambassadors of the three European countries. He added that what Iran had accepted “virtually corresponds” with what the 35-country ruling board of the International Atomic Energy Agency demanded in September.
Mr. Rowhani’s deputy, Hossein Mousavian, who led the Iranian delegation talks in Paris a week ago, told reporters in Tehran that Iran had bowed to European demands that it suspend 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.
Mr. Mousavian also made clear that Iran’s decision was not legally binding. “We have accepted the suspension as a voluntary step, and it does not create any obligations for us,” Mr. Mousavian told Iranian state television.
On Nov. 25, the 35-country governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency is scheduled to decide whether to accept the Bush administration’s call for Iran’s case to be referred to the Security Council for possible sanctions over its nuclear program. The United States contends that Iran’s program is a cover for a secret program to build nuclear bombs.
The Bush administration has repeatedly expressed skepticism over the European initiative, arguing that Iran needs to be punished, not rewarded, for its nuclear activities.
But in a surprising shift last Friday, President Bush lent support to the European initiative. At a joint news conference with the British prime minister, Tony Blair, at the White House, Mr. Bush praised Mr. Blair’s efforts to try to achieve a deal.
“We don’t want Iran to have a nuclear weapon, and we’re working toward that end,” Mr. Bush said. “And the truth of the matter is the prime minister gets a lot of credit for working with France and Germany to convince the Iranians to get rid of the processes that would enable them to develop a nuclear weapon.”