Iran on Sunday notified the U.N. nuclear watchdog in writing that it will suspend uranium enrichment and linked activities to dispel suspicions that it is trying to build nuclear arms.
The move appeared to indicate that Iran had dropped demands to modify a tentative deal worked out on Nov. 7 with European negotiators, diplomats told The Associated Press. Tehran has now agreed to continue freezing enrichment — the process to make either nuclear fuel or the core for nuclear weapons — and also to suspend related activities, diplomats said.
"Basically it's a full suspension," said one of the diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It's what the Europeans were looking for."
Shortly after diplomats revealed the Iranian move, Tehran's top nuclear negotiator, Hossein Mousavian, confirmed that his country was giving its "basic agreement" to a temporary suspension.
"We accept suspension as a voluntary measure on the basis of agreement with the European Union," Mousavian said on Iranian state television, emphasizing that his country viewed the decision as a "confidence building" move and not a "legal obligation on the part of Iran."
As part of the agreement, "Europe will support Iran's joining the international group of states possessing the ability to manufacture nuclear fuel" once the suspension ends, Mousavian said, signaling again that Iran viewed the freeze as temporary.
Washington has argued that Iran's enrichment activities are part of a nuclear arms program. Iran says it only wants to employ the technology to generate power.
The diplomat said that Iran had also fulfilled a key part of the deal by formally informing the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency — the International Atomic Energy Agency — of its decision.
Iran's stated intentions will be included in a report prepared by IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei.
The IAEA delayed circulating the report on Iran's nuclear activities to diplomats working with the agency to give more French, German and British negotiators time to work out difference with their Iranian counterparts over the weekend. A diplomat close to the agency said the report would now be released on Monday.
The IAEA study on nearly two decades of clandestine activities that the United States asserts is a secret weapons program will be reviewed by the agency's 35-nation board of governors when they meet Nov. 25. Based on the report, they will decide on actions that include possibly referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council, which, in turn, could lead to sanctions.
Iran's move appeared to weaken the chances of the board calling for Security Council involvement at the next meeting.
After ending talks in Paris with Iranian envoys last weekend, European diplomats said there was tentative agreement by Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment and all related activities. The suspension would be in effect for at least as long as it took for the two sides to negotiate a deal on European technical and financial aid, including help in the development of Iranian nuclear energy for power generation.
But on Friday the diplomats told The Associated Press that Iranian officials had presented British, French and German envoys in Tehran with a version of the agreement that was unacceptable to the three European powers — the main negotiators of the deal — and the European Union as a whole.
The key dispute was over the conversion of uranium into gas, which when spun in centrifuges can be enriched to lower levels for producing electricity or processed into high-level, weapons grade uranium, the diplomats said on condition of anonymity.
Iran suspended uranium enrichment last year but has repeatedly refused to stop other related activities such as reprocessing uranium or building centrifuges, insisting its program is intended purely for the production of fuel for nuclear power generation.
Any deal on full suspension would be significant because it would commit Iran not only to continue its voluntary freeze on enriching uranium — which can be used to make nuclear weapons — but also to stop the contentious activities linked to it.