TEHRAN, Iran – Iran said Sunday it had not yet suspended enriching uranium (search) after promising to do so in a deal with three European countries who had come to Tehran to express international concerns it is pursuing nuclear weapons.
"Iran is currently studying suspending uranium enrichment," the Foreign Ministry said in a brief statement, saying its spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi had been mistaken when he told reporters earlier Sunday that enrichment had already been suspended.
Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. High-grade enriched uranium can be used in bombs, while low-grade enriched uranium can be used in energy programs.
In an agreement with the British, German and French foreign ministers, Iranian authorities said Tuesday they would suspend uranium enrichment and sign a protocol giving inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (search), the U.N. nuclear watchdog, unfettered access to its nuclear facilities.
Iran had said it would abide by the protocol even before it is ratified by its parliament. But Tehran has been vague about when it would open up to inspections, as it has been vague about when and for how long it would halt enrichment.
Iran has previously allowed IAEA inspectors to visit non-nuclear sites, a privilege that goes beyond Iran's obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei (search) said earlier this month that agency inspectors were allowed to visit one military site and that there could be expanded reviews of both military and civilian facilities in the future.
Iranian officials are trying to balance pressure to meet the demands of the international community with the demands of hard-liners at home. About 1,500 hard-liners protested in Tehran on Friday against the pledge to open the nuclear program to unfettered inspections and suspend uranium enrichment.
Some Iranian extremists see backing down on the nuclear question as a sign of weakness.
On Sunday, as Asefi was addressing the press conference at the Foreign Ministry, over two dozen clerics demonstrated outside the building to protest Iran's pledge.
"No compromise, no surrender. Death to compromisers," shouted the clerics, some of them wearing white shrouds symbolizing their readiness to die for their cause.
Asked about the protests, Asefi said, "We are the 81st country agreeing to sign the additional protocol. It's not treason or compromise. It was necessary to do so."
Iran faces an Oct. 31 deadline to prove to the IAEA that its nuclear projects are entirely peaceful. If Iran fails to satisfy the IAEA, the U.N. agency is expected to refer the matter to the Security Council, which could impose sanctions.
In the agreement, France, Britain and Germany promised in turn to help Iran acquire peaceful nuclear technology.
Iran gave the U.N. nuclear watchdog a dossier Thursday meant to dispel fears it is trying to make atomic bombs.
Asefi said the dossier was a 200-page account of Iran's nuclear activities. The spokesman said a team of IAEA experts arrived in Tehran Sunday to discuss the dossier with Iranian authorities. He gave no further details.