After a deadlock in talks between the EU and Iran over uranium enrichment programs, Tehran has backed down, saying it will suspend the process, which created atomic fuel for power plants or weapons.
Iran's negotiator with IAEA's Mohamed ElBaradei
On Thursday, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, reported an impasse between the EU and Iran on centrifuge devices. Just days after Iran had promised the European Union it would stop all activities related to uranium enrichment, it demanded an exemption for about 20 enrichment centrifuges for research purposes.
Diplomats from the EU had said this was impossible and would deepen suspicions held by the United States that Iran was working on a secret weapons program.
But in the face of intense international pressure, Iran backed down on Friday and dropped the demand.
"They (Iran) have agreed to drop the demand and (the EU) are awaiting confirmation that a letter has been given to (UN nuclear watchdog chief ElBaradei) confirming this," a diplomat told Reuters.
The head of the Iranian delegation to the IAEA meeting, Hossein Mousavian, also said agreement had been reached, although it needed the final OK from Tehran.
"We are fully committed to a suspension of enrichment and related activities," he told Reuters.
The impasse had threatened to kill the entire agreement hammered out earlier this month in Paris between the EU and Iran. When asked what had moved Iran to back down from its demand regarding the centrifuges, one diplomat told Reuters: "It was (the EU's) hard stance. The Iranians just gave up."
Unacceptable to Europe and Washington
"It is not acceptable to us," a European diplomat had said of Iran's centrifuge request. The enrichment freeze was forged in talks with EU negotiators Britain, France and Germany in order to help Tehran show good faith and avoid possible UN sanctions.
Iranian lawmakers visit the Isfahan uranium conversion facility in central Iran.
Iran was also taking a hard-line stance against a draft UN resolution by the European trio in moves which stalled the crucial IAEA meeting on allaying international concern over its nuclear program, which the United States claims is devoted to secretly developing atomic weapons.
Iran's request to amend the original agreement also infuriated the United States, which has long accused Tehran of trying to building an atomic bomb. Washington is also said to be unhappy with the EU-Iran deal, but has indicated it would not block them.
The US has for over a year been trying to get the IAEA board to take Iran before the Security Council for almost two decades of hidden nuclear activities, but non-aligned states, as well as the European trio and Russia and China, have opposed this, saying Iran must be given a chance to cooperate with a two-year-old IAEA investigation of its nuclear program.
Upping the ante
But Iran keeps on upping the ante, diplomats said. Iran continued to produce the uranium gas that is the first step in the enrichment process only days before Monday's ban, a move one European diplomat characterized as "not very helpful" as it led to doubts about Iran's intentions and the future of the suspension deal.
Gary Samore, a non-proliferation expert from London's International Institute for Strategic Studies, told AFP the Iranians apparently want to "clear the technical hurdle of running centrifuges together in a cascade." He said this explains why they want to do research work with a small amount of centrifuges "but what surprises me is that they think they can get away with it."
Several diplomats said the Iranians were merely trying to use the centrifuges as a bargaining chip to get the Europeans to soften the resolution.
Iran maintains its nuclear program is strictly peaceful.