A top Iranian regime official has warned Britain, France and Germany that the Islamic Republic could harden its stance if the EU failed to show flexibility in the stalled nuclear negotiations.
Rafsanjani (left) said a preliminary deal with the EU is unfair to Iran
"If the Europeans are rational, we can make some assurances... but if they put their foot down, then our attitude will change," former president and influential spokesman Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was quoted as saying by the Hamshahri newspaper.
The powerful ex-leader has criticized the "preliminary agreement" reached Sunday between Iran and the European Union over Tehran's nuclear program as being unfair to the Islamic Republic. The deal, which diplomats from Britain, France and Germany hammered out during two days of negotiations, calls for the suspension of Iran's uranium enrichment program for an unspecified period in exchange for peaceful atomic technology and economic incentives.
But many in Iran regard the deal as detrimental to Iran. "This technology has been achieved by our people by our own means, and others cannot put an end to it," said Rafsanjani, who now heads Iran's top political arbitration body the Expediency Council.
The deal centers on a verifiable suspension of uranium enrichment and threatens with a referral to the UN Security Council and possible punitive action if the situation does not improve by Nov. 25 when the International Atomic Energy Agency convenes to discuss Iran.
The European Union, which has been following a course of diplomatic engagement with regard to Iran in the hopes that a full-fledge conflict between the Islamic Republic and the US can be avoided, has said Iran must indefinitely and fully suspend uranium enrichment. Iran, however, insists its right to enrichment, which can be used either as fuel for a civilian power reactor or as the core of nuclear weapons, cannot be called into question. Tehran officials claim the nuclear program is used purely for civilian means to generate electricity.
The United States accuses Iran of using its atomic energy program as a front for developing weapons and has been pushing for the IAEA to refer the issue to the Security Council for sanctions. Washington did not participate in the EU deal and has been skeptical of the European trio's effectiveness in convincing Iran to stop its enrichment activities.
"Ultimately, it's what Iran does that matters, not just what they might agree to," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters in Washington after the preliminary agreement between Iran and the EU was announced.
US remains skeptical
"Ultimately, we shall see not only if Iran and the Europeans are able to reach agreement on how Iran can comply with the (IAEA) board's requirements, but whether the IAEA was able to verify that," Boucher said.
Observers, however, say the EU deal has no chance of succeeding without Washington's backing.
"In the long run, I don't think this deal can work without the US buying into it," David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector and head of the Institute for Science and International Security, told Reuters.
Albright said the deal can work for six months or so, but not for a longer period of time. "One problem is that Iran can suspend for six months, then resume enrichment and somehow blame the EU," for not upholding its part of the bargain, he added.
Several diplomats have also said Iran might consider suspending enrichment now to avoid the Security Council and then pick a fight with the EU after the Nov. 25 deadline has passed.
European diplomats and officials from the IAEA have said US participation would give much-needed strength to the EU initiative. But Washington's hardliners have refused to join forces with the EU, insisting that Tehran forfeited the right to its own nuclear program by keeping its nuclear fuel production research hidden for almost two decades.