TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran agreed yesterday to suspend uranium
enrichment and give inspectors unrestricted access to its nuclear
facilities as demanded by the U.N. watchdog agency, a step that
could ease the standoff over fears Iran is seeking to build nuclear
weapons.

The announcement came after weeks of pressure on Iran to meet an
Oct. 31 deadline to come clean on its nuclear program, which
Washington believes aims to build a nuclear arsenal. The United
States – which has led the charge for the U.N. Security Council to
take action against Tehran – gave a cautious welcome.

If Iran follows through with its promises, it “would be a
positive step in the right direction,” White House press secretary
Scott McClellan said. “Full compliance by Iran will now be
essential.”

Iran, which says its nuclear programs aims only for electricity
production, made the commitments after the foreign ministers of
Britain, France and Germany came to Iran to press the demands by
the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency. Tehran did not say
when it would take the steps, though a British official said it
would likely be before the deadline.

Iran also agreed to hand over other information long sought by
the IAEA, said diplomats in Vienna, where the IAEA is based. Most
importantly, said the diplomats, who spoke on condition of
anonymity, Iran promised to account for the origin of traces of
weapons-grade uranium IAEA inspectors discovered at two facilities,
raising alarm bells in Vienna and Washington.

IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei has called those traces, found in
environmental samples, the most troubling aspect of Iran’s nuclear
activities. Iran says the contamination was on equipment it
imported for peaceful nuclear purposes, but it resisted IAEA
requests that it name the country of origin. Once the agency knows
where the equipment comes from, it can test the truth of Iran’s
claims.

The direct intervention by the three European ministers – who
flew to Tehran for talks yesterday, after which Iranian officials
announced their promises – highlighted the differing strategies
Europe and Washington have toward Iran’s Islamic government.

The United States characterized Iran as part of an “axis of
evil” – alongside Iraq, whose regime U.S. troops later ousted.
Washington has pushed fellow members of the IAEA board to declare
Tehran in breach of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. That would
likely prompt the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on
Iran.

The head of Israel’s military intelligence warned yesterday that
if Iran completes its program for enriching uranium, it would be
able to produce its own nuclear weapons without outside help by the
summer of 2004.

The Europeans have tried to engage the Tehran government.
Yesterday, the three ministers promised that if Iran does meet its
commitments, their countries will help it get peaceful nuclear
technology.

Volker Perthes, a German foreign policy analyst, said Europe
wanted to show it “can wield influence in a different way than the
Americans did in Iraq. … It was a signal: We also don’t want Iran
to develop their nuclear program … but we have something else on
offer – cooperation, stronger economic integration.”

 

 

 

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