Washington Post: Despite intense pressure from other nations, Iran failed to provide written assurances yesterday that it was fully suspending its nuclear program, though Tehran’s negotiators promised a commitment would be forthcoming, U.S. and European diplomats said. Washington Post
Tehran Had Promised Written Assurances on Nuclear Plans
By Dafna Linzer
Despite intense pressure from other nations, Iran failed to provide written assurances yesterday that it was fully suspending its nuclear program, though Tehran’s negotiators promised a commitment would be forthcoming, U.S. and European diplomats said.
The delay threatened a shaky new deal between Iran and European nations, derailed the scheduled end to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board meeting in Vienna and left some of Tehran’s closest friends wondering whether it was prepared to make good on pledges that won it accolades just two weeks ago.
U.S. officials said that if Iran continues to insist on operating 20 centrifuges for research when the board reconvenes on Monday, Washington will renew its push to threaten the Islamic republic with the possibility of economic sanctions.
“If the Europeans cave and allow the centrifuges to be used for research purposes, then we wouldn’t go along with it,” one official said.
So far, the request has been rejected by European officials, but there were side negotiations to allow Iran access to the centrifuges without operating rights, diplomats said.
Iran’s Nov. 14 agreement with Britain, France and Germany hinges on its commitment to suspend all of its nuclear programs. If Iran sticks to the commitment, the European trio has promised to keep Iran from being reported to the U.N. Security Council.
But a day before this week’s IAEA board meeting began, Iran sought an exemption for research and development work with 20 centrifuges. While Iran said it would not use the equipment to enrich uranium, such research work could help improve its understanding and capabilities in a crucial area of nuclear weapons development.
After pressure from Europe, IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei and all of Iran’s allies on the agency’s board, Iranian diplomats said yesterday that the centrifuge request would be rescinded. But European officials wanted the commitment in writing before they would offer a board resolution welcoming their deal and opening a new chapter of negotiations.
“There’s no deal until we see it in black and white,” a European diplomat said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.
ElBaradei waited yesterday for the letter, which Iranian diplomats said they would deliver, but late in the day European officials notified the agency there would not be an answer until after the weekend.
“Negotiations will need to continue throughout the weekend, and the meeting will not reconvene until Monday,” said Melissa Fleming, IAEA spokeswoman.
European diplomats said British Foreign Minister Jack Straw spoke with one of Iran’s top diplomats Friday to sort out the problems but said that the call with Hassan Rohani did not go well.
“After that call we found out there wasn’t going to be an Iranian letter today,” one diplomat said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
“Both sides remain committed to the agreement,” a European diplomat said. “What we need though is to get actions and words aligned so we can have a full suspension. We’ve just not been able to get to that point yet.”
In his most positive comments yet on the European initiative, President Bush told reporters near his Texas ranch yesterday that Britain, France and Germany have made important efforts but that any deal needed oversight to ensure it is honored. “I look forward to talking to the leaders of those countries, if they can get Iran to agree to a deal, to make sure that it’s verifiable.”
In the two weeks since Iran accepted the suspension deal and long-term negotiations for a final accord, it has tried three times to alter or reinterpret the terms.
The strategy has been successful twice so far. Iran accepted the deal for an immediate suspension on Nov. 14 but then said it would only adhere to the terms beginning Nov. 22. It then used the extra week to convert several tons of raw uranium into solid and gas states that could speed its ability to make weapons-grade materials.
The tactics have aggravated Europe, increased suspicions among U.N. inspectors and heightened fears in Washington that Tehran has no real intention of giving up a drive toward nuclear weapons capabilities.
Iran, which has been the target of a two-year IAEA investigation, says its once-secret uranium enrichment program is devoted to the development of a nuclear energy program. But Iran’s vast oil and gas wealth, the scale of the program, and 18 years of concealment have fueled suspicions that it is trying to build a nuclear weapon.
IAEA inspectors have not found evidence of a weapons program but ElBaradei told the board yesterday that Iran suffers from a “confidence deficit” and needs to take steps to win the world’s trust.
On Friday, the board refrained from taking any action against South Korea, which acknowledged in September that its scientists conducted secret nuclear experiments in violation of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Instead, the board welcomed corrective measures taken by South Korea and said it would wait for further word from ElBaradei about the agency’s investigations there. South Korean diplomats, who had launched a major diplomatic offensive to clear the country’s record, celebrated the board’s decision.