Iran said Monday that it was suspending uranium enrichment and related activities briefly, voluntarily and in hopes of building confidence in the world that its nuclear ambitions are peaceful.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters the deal announced Sunday was "the best decision under the current circumstances." Iran faces the possibility of being slapped with U.N. Security Council sanctions for a program the United States and others says is aimed at building nuclear weapons.
That promise appears to meet demands from the U.N. atomic watchdog agency, an International Atomic Energy Agency report said, but some suspicions remain about the nature of nearly two decades of clandestine nuclear programs.
The confidential report of the IAEA, made available to The Associated Press, said all nuclear material that Iran had declared to the agency in the past year has been accounted for "and therefore we can say that such material is not diverted to prohibited (weapons) activities."
But the report also said its author — IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei — was "not yet in the position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials" that could have been used for a weapons program.
Iran notified the IAEA Sunday that it will fully suspend uranium enrichment and related activities. Diplomats at IAEA headquarters in Vienna said 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 such activities as reprocessing uranium and building centrifuges used to enrich it.
"Iran's acceptance of suspension is a political decision, not an obligation," Asefi said.
Observers say Iran wants to present its case to the U.S. directly at a Cairo conference on Iraq next week, says CBS News Reporter Edward Yeranian. Pressure to impose sanctions on Iran also appears to be subsiding with new talks on the horizon.
Iran's top nuclear negotiator Hasan Rowhani, speaking on state-run television Monday, confirmed Iran notified the IAEA in writing that it has agreed to suspend uranium enrichment and related activities. He said the suspension will last until the completion of negotiations with Europe over Iran's nuclear program.
Asefi told reporters that the negotiations will last for a short period, but he did not elaborate.
"Our negotiations with Europe will be for a short period of time to create an atmosphere of confidence," he said.
Asefi said the full text of the agreement will be officially released in the capitals of the four countries involved in the negotiations — Britain, France, Germany and Iran — later Monday.
The IAEA report said Iran also had asked agency inspectors to police its commitment to the freeze, starting Nov. 22 — just three days before the IAEA governing board meets to decide what to do about Iran's nuclear activities.
The decision is expected to anger extremists within the hard-line camp who have called on the government to ignore international demands and even expand, not limit, nuclear activities.
Asefi tried to allay the concerns of hard-liners Monday.
"We didn't cross the red line at all," Asefi told a press conference. "Our red line was (permanent) cessation, not suspension."
As negotiators for France, Germany and Britain struggled with Iranian counterparts to bridge differences on the weekend, the IAEA had delayed a report by IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei on Iran's nuclear activities scheduled for limited circulation to diplomats accredited to the agency Friday. A diplomat close to the agency said the report would now be released on Monday.
The IAEA study on nearly two decades of Iranian clandestine activities that the United States asserts is a secret weapons program is being prepared for review by the agency's 35-nation board of governors when they meet Nov. 25.
Based on the report, they will decide on actions that may include possible referral of Iran to the U.N. Security Council, which, in turn, could lead to sanctions. It is believed that the agreement would spare Iran action by the Security Council.
The key dispute that prolonged negotiations between Iran and the Europeans 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, and the length of any suspension.
Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Hossein Mousavian, said late Sunday that Iran has won commitments from Europe in return for agreeing to suspend enrichment.
"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 Iran's part."
"Europe will support Iran's joining the international group of states possessing the ability to manufacture nuclear fuel" once the suspension ends, Mousavian said.
Washington believes Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons under cover of a peaceful nuclear program. Iran denies this and has offered to provide guarantees that its program is strictly confined to producing electricity.