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Europe

Iran Agrees to Inspections after EU Talks

The foreign ministers of Europe's big three -- Great Britain, France and Germany -- breathed a sigh of relief when Iranian officials agreed to nuclear inspections after a tense day of talks.

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Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi pledged transparency, Joschka Fischer sighed with relief

In a dramatic turn of events, Iran has agreed to sign and ratify an agreement on tougher inspections of its nuclear sites after tense discussions with foreign ministers from the European Union’s "big three" -- Germany, France and Britain.

The declaration on Tuesday included a statement that the Tehran regime would suspend its uranium enrichment and processing program and comply with an October 31 U.N. deadline to dispel doubts about its nuclear ambitions and ease international fears over Iran’s alleged quest to become a nuclear power.

A promising start

Dominique de Villepin in Brüssel

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin

Although optimism was running high in the immediate wake of the announcement, both the Iranians and the EU delegation refused to place too much emphasis on the day’s events. One senior Iranian official told reporters that the decision to freeze the uranium enrichment program was only a temporary measure, designed to be seen as a sign of trust and of peaceful intent on Iran’s part. Meanwhile, Dominique de Villepin, the French foreign minister, referred to the move as a "promising start."

No specific date was set for the undertakings by Iran, but sources within the Iranian delegation were confident that the protocol on nuclear checks would be signed before the next International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board meeting at its headquarters in Vienna on November 20.

Iran's Supreme National Security Council chief Hassan Rohani told reporters that he didn’t think the Iranians would sign before October 31 but probably before the IAEA convened for its November session.

On the subject of uranium enrichment, Rohani said: "We voluntarily chose to do it which means it could last for one day or one year, it depends on us. As long as Iran thinks that this suspension is beneficial for us it will continue, and whenever we don't want it we will end it."

IAEA report may still be damaging

Mohamed ElBaradei

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed ElBaradei.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei has warned Iran that its case may go before the U.N. Security Council if he cannot confidently tell his colleagues in his November report that Iran has no intention of building nuclear weapons. But a western diplomat in Vienna told Reuters that Iran’s concessions may not be enough to prevent a negative report by ElBaradei. "This doesn't mean it's over by a longshot," the diplomat said.

Despite the underlying concerns that remain, those involved in the talks seemed confident that both sides were on the right track. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said: "This is an important day... we have concerns and an obligation to solve the problem and we can now move forward. This agreement is opening a serious process to resolve the nuclear issue between Iran and the international community."

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw made it clear that the Iranians' pledge of transparency must include clear definitions regarding its use of radioactive material. "We all respect the rights of any sovereign nation to have a civil nuclear program but at the same time not to be involved in any proliferation activities," he said.

The declaration was a successful end to what looked to be a "make or break" round of discussions. Fischer made statements earlier in the day which indicated the talks were on a knife edge: "If we can agree today, I think this will be an important step forward. If not, we have a very serious problem."

Iran Nuklearanlagen Nukleartechnik Satelitenfoto Atombombe

Javad Dabiran, a member of the Iranian Resistance Council, presents a satellite picture of nuclear facilities in Natanz, Iran.

A suspect discovery

Following the discovery of traces of highly enriched uranium by IAEA inspectors at an Iranian nuclear facility earlier this year, the Vienna-based organization passed a resolution demanding an explanation. It has also demanded that Iran sign an additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty stating it will provide details on suspected attempts to redivert nuclear material to a weapons program.

Iran has maintained all along that its nuclear program is purely intended for civilian energy use.

But the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, who included Iran in his "Axis of Evil" along side Iraq and North Korea, has been pressuring the international community to take action against Iran, which it suspects of developing nuclear weapons.

Following a meeting with Bush last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country was willing to work together with Iran to abandon any nuclear ambitions it had.

Friendly ties under strain

Traditionally friendly ties between Germany and Iran have been under tension recently as a result of the nuclear dispute. Germany and the European Union have put on hold the negotiation of a trade agreement that would increase economic cooperation between Europe and Iran until the dispute is resolved.

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