1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Iran Freezes Nuclear Activity

AFP (mry)November 22, 2004

Iran said it was freezing its controversial nuclear fuel work Monday after brokering a deal with Britain, France and Germany. The UN's atomic watchdog sees the move as easing fears the Islamic regime is seeking the bomb.

The IAEA hopes to verify the suspension this weekImage: AP

Iranian officials said it would suspend its sensitive nuclear activities surrounding the enrichment of uranium, likely avoiding referral to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.

"We respect our commitments and in accordance with the agreement, we are beginning the suspension today," Iranian government spokesman Abdollah Ramazanzadeh told reporters.

In Vienna, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed ElBaradei said his watchdog organization should be able to verify the suspension by Thursday, when the agency is due to decide on the next step in the stand-off.

Mohammed el Baradei zu Libyen
The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed ElBaradei.Image: AP

"I think pretty much everything has come to a halt right now so we are just trying to make sure that everything has been stopped," he said. The IAEA chief told the BBC that Tehran's suspension was "a step in the right direction."

Iran agreed a week ago with Britain, France and Germany to suspend as of Monday all its uranium enrichment-related activities, including making uranium gas and building centrifuges, in order to avoid being taken to the UN Security Council over the matter. Iranian state media also said the suspension had either started or would commence Monday, but gave no details on the precise timing of the halt.

US remains skeptical

The United States accuses Tehran's clerical rulers of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, and President George W. Bush has already lumped Iran into an "axis of evil".

Iran had already frozen the actual enrichment process in October 2003, but had pressed on with work on other parts of the fuel cycle -- including converting raw uranium into the gas fed into centrifuges and making the centrifuges themselves.

Iran has been accused of acting in bad faith with diplomats in Vienna saying it had accelerated its conversion work in the run-up to the suspension. However ElBaradei said the up to two tons of uranium gas (UF6) made was not enough to make a bomb.

Iranisches Atomkraftwerk Buschir
Image: dpa

The Islamic republic insists it only wants to enrich uranium to low levels, so as to become self-sufficient in producing fuel for a series of atomic energy reactors it plans to build in the future. But once it has mastered the fuel cycle, Iran could divert its program towards making highly enriched uranium -- the explosive core of a nuclear bomb. Many Western officials fear that Iran is seeking the "option" to build a bomb.

Europe brokers deal

Under the deal with the three European states, Iran is to maintain its suspension while talks on a long-term resolution to the stand-off are in progress. Negotiations on defining long-term guarantees on Iran's peaceful intentions as well as a package of incentives for Tehran are scheduled to begin in mid-December.

Ideally the EU-3 would like Iran to abandon its fuel cycle work altogether. But Iran is standing by its right to the fuel cycle, saying enrichment for peaceful purposes is permitted by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), of which it is a signatory. It has said it is ready to discuss ways in which it can operate the fuel cycle under full IAEA supervision that would ease any alarm.

Officials in Europe have also signaled they will not allow the talks to drag on fruitlessly too far into 2005.

"The suspension is voluntary and not a legal obligation," Ramazanzadeh said. "It is aimed at building trust and corresponds to our national interests... and it is us who will decide on the duration of the suspension."

And while hopeful the accord would work, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in Brussels that the row could still end up in New York.

"If there is a failure by Iran to meet its obligations then Britain, and also Germany and France reserve our collective right to refer the matter to the Security Council," he said.