Backing down before a Monday deadline, Iran apparently has given up its demand to exempt some equipment from a deal freezing uranium enrichment programs that can make nuclear weapons, diplomats said Sunday.
Diplomats from the European Union and elsewhere said on condition of anonymity that the International Atomic Energy Agency received a letter from Iran containing a pledge not to test some centrifuges during the freeze it agreed to Nov. 7 during negotiations with Britain, France and Germany on behalf of the European Union.
The pledge appeared to resolve a dispute that threatened to escalate into possible referral of Iran to the U.N. Security Council for defying the IAEA board. The Security Council could then impose sanctions against Iran.
On Sunday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said Tehran was maintaining a demand made Thursday at the start of the IAEA meeting to use the 20 centrifuges. The centrifuges spin gas into enriched uranium.
Tehran had insisted the Nov. 7 deal allowed it to use those centrifuges purely for research, but the EU disagreed.
The diplomats told The Associated Press on Sunday that the letter still needed close examination to determine what exactly the Iranians had agreed to.
Only if the Iranians agreed to totally suspend enrichment — including all use of the centrifuges — would the dispute be resolved, they said.
The Iranian promise came a day before the IAEA — the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency — was scheduled to reconvene in Vienna amid a building crisis on the issue of enrichment suspension. Iran's program can produce both low-grade nuclear fuel and weapons-grade material for the core of nuclear warheads.
Iran says its program is for generating electricity, but the United States insists Iran is trying to make nuclear weapons.
The IAEA meeting adjourned Friday with the intention of giving Tehran until Monday to approve a total freeze of its enrichment program. Delegates also were to decide on further steps in policing Tehran's nuclear activities.
France, Britain and Germany say a Nov. 7 deal they worked out with Iran includes all equipment as part of he freeze — but Tehran had insisted it had a right to run some centrifuges for research and development purposes.
Iranian officials had suggested the issue of using 20 centrifuges for research was not up for debate only hours before the revelations that they had apparently dropped their demands.
"Referral to the U.N. Security Council would not be the end of the world," Asefi said in Tehran earlier Sunday.
The Europeans say the deal committed Iran to full suspension of enrichment and all related activities — at least while the two sides discuss a pact meant to provide Iran with EU technical and economic aid and other concessions.
EU delegates to the Vienna meeting said British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw spoke this weekend with Hassan Rowhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and his country's point man on nuclear matters, in an effort to resolve the dispute.
As the clock ticked down to Monday, EU officials and delegates spoke of the growing likelihood of tough action at the board meeting if Iran remained defiant — including the start of work on a harsh resolution that could include the threat of U.N. Security Council action.
Hinting at the possibility of such a draft, one of the EU delegates said Iran was "fully aware" of the consequences of not accepting a full freeze.
That would mean withdrawing a draft resolution written last week by Britain, France and Germany containing intentionally weak language on how any freeze would be monitored by the agency in an attempt to entice Tehran to sign on to total suspension.
That confidential draft, made available to the AP, authorized IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei to "pursue his investigations" into remaining suspicious aspects of Iran's nuclear activities over the past two decades.