Iran's foreign minister dampened hopes Saturday of a quick end to a dispute over the scope of his country's freeze on nuclear technology, suggesting Tehran remained committed to exempting key equipment from such a suspension.
The squabble over Iran's interpretation of its deal with the European Union to freeze all activities linked to uranium enrichment stalled an International Atomic Energy Agency board meeting, which was adjourned for the weekend.
That was meant to give time for Iran to consider approving a total freeze of the program, which can produce both low-grade nuclear fuel and weapons-grade material for the core of nuclear warheads, and for delegates to decide on further steps in policing Tehran's nuclear activities.
But in Tehran, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told reporters that Iran still believed that it had a right to exempt about 20 centrifuges from the agreement, despite contrary views from the European Union.
Iran says it wants to run the centrifuges purely for research purposes, something Kharrazi insisted was not banned by a Nov. 7 agreement worked out with Germany, France and Britain on behalf of the European Union.
"The centrifuges will work under International Atomic Energy Agency supervision and will be for research purposes only," he told reporters.
The meeting was adjourned Friday to give time for a formal Iranian response, by letter to the IAEA, on whether Tehran accepts a full suspension that includes the 20 centrifuges.
As the board meeting awaited a formal Iranian response, France, Germany and Britain dangled both a carrot and a stick.
Moving to meet Iranian demands, a confidential draft resolution written by the European three, made available to The Associated Press on Saturday, weakened language on how any freeze would be monitored by the agency.
But an EU official told the AP that Tehran's refusal to drop demands to exempt equipment from the suspension could prompt a harsher resolution that could include the threat of U.N. Security Council action.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said work on such an "alternate" text had already begun, although he expressed hope it would not be needed.
Anticipating that Iran would honor the Nov. 7 deal on full suspension, the three European countries had drafted a relatively mild resolution that takes much of the heat off Iran after more than 18 months of IAEA scrutiny and diminishes the threat of referral to the Security Council.
But Iran came to Thursday's opening day of the meeting with demands that it be allowed to operate the 20 centrifuges - which spin gas into enriched uranium.
In comments to the AP before Kharrazi spoke, senior Iranian delegate Hossein Mousavian had suggested the dispute was close to being solved, describing the demand that the centrifuges be exempted as "not an important issue for Iran."
The newest version of the draft authorizes IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei to "pursue his investigations" into remaining suspicious aspects of Iran's nuclear activities over the past two decades.
But instead of mandating him to "report without delay" to the board if there are violations, it says only that he should "inform" board members of irregularities.
Kharrazi, however, suggested that even such language was too tough for Iran.
"There are still provisions in the resolution we don't agree with," he said.