Iran Nuclear NewsIran stalls on nuclear agreement

Iran stalls on nuclear agreement

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The Times: Iran has raised last-minute objections to the wording of an agreement to limit its controversial nuclear programme, raising fears of a confrontation tomorrow at a key meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Times

From Richard Beeston in Sharm el-Sheikh

IRAN has raised last-minute objections to the wording of an agreement to limit its controversial nuclear programme, raising fears of a confrontation tomorrow at a key meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Kamal Kharrazi, the Iranian Foreign Minister, told Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, that Iran wanted two key paragraphs of the resolution to be reworked, less than 48 hours before IAEA member states are due to approve it at the organisation’s headquarters in Vienna.

“We hope to have an agreement,” Mr Straw said. “Minister Kharrazi made strong representations to me about some aspects of the resolution. We all look forward to it being resolved.”

The deal struck this month calls on Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment programme and to open its nuclear facilities to inspectors from the IAEA, the nuclear watchdog. In return, Britain, France and Germany have pledged to boost trade and political relations between the European Union and Tehran. They may also help Iran to build a civilian nuclear programme.

The compromise also protects Iran from the United States, which has accused the Iranians of secretly trying to assemble a nuclear bomb and wants the regime to be referred to the UN Security Council for possible punitive sanctions.

Iran announced on Monday that it had suspended its enrichment programme and allowed IAEA inspectors to visit nuclear sites, but British officials said yesterday that Tehran had raised objections about the wording of the freeze on enrichment and how the suspension would be monitored.

In particular, Iran wants to avoid “an automatic trigger” that could lead to the country being referred to the Security Council if it were found to be in breach of the resolution. “We have 48 hours of hard work to do,” a British official said.

While the British, French and German foreign ministers pressed Mr Kharrazi in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, diplomats in Vienna were studying the text, seeking wording that would satisfy all sides. “We are close but not there yet,” the official said.

The Iranians have made clear that they have only “suspended”, not terminated, their enrichment programme, which critics suspect is a cover for making highly enriched uranium that could be used in a nuclear warhead. The Europeans hope that the suspension will become permanent when Tehran enjoys the benefits of improved relations with Brussels.

The wording of the final resolution must also satisfy countries such as the US, Australia, Canada and Japan, which want guarantees that the deal will prevent Iran from pursuing a secret atomic weapons project. IAEA sources predicted that a compromise would be reached.

One diplomat experienced in dealing with the Iranians said that he was not surprised by the last-minute objections. “Negotiating with the Iranians is like buying a used car,” he said. “You agree on the price, but when you take delivery find there are only three wheels. There is always something that needs to be fixed.”

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