VIENNA, Austria – The U.N. atomic watchdog agency gave its support Monday to Iran's agreement to suspend all uranium enrichment activities, the key element of a deal with European countries aimed at ensuring Iran does not develop nuclear weapons.
The United States, which has been pressing for tough U.N. action against Iran, has not yet given its position on any deal, saying it is waiting for word from Britain, Germany and France, the three nations negotiating with Tehran.
If a tentative deal announced Sunday with the Europeans is sealed, it would prevent Iran from being referred to the U.N. Security Council, where it could face sanctions for its nuclear program. In return for the suspension, Europe has been suggesting it would help Iran in developing peaceful nuclear energy.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (search) said in a confidential report made available Monday to The Associated Press that Iran's promise to suspend the enrichment activities by Nov. 22 would satisfy some of the agency's demands.
The agency said other suspicions remain about the nature of nearly two decades of clandestine nuclear programs.
IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei (search) was "not yet in the position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials" that could have been used for a weapons program, the report said.
But, it said, all nuclear material that Iran has declared to the agency in the past year has been accounted for, "and therefore we can say that such material is not diverted to prohibited (weapons) activities," said the report, authored by ElBaradei.
In an important departure from previous reports, the document did not specifically say that ElBaradei would report to the next IAEA board on Iran. Instead it said it would give an accounting on the country and its nuclear activities "as appropriate."
That wording was expected to be welcomed by Iran, who for months has urged the agency to close its file. The United States, which insists that Iran's nuclear activities are geared toward making weapons, was likely to be unhappy with any suggestion that future pressure would ease.
Iran's key concession is the suspension of activities related to enriching uranium (search) — a process that can produce nuclear fuel either for power generation or for creating weapons.
The IAEA report said Iran had agreed to suspend the building of centrifuges and the processing of uranium into the gas state that is spun in the centrifuges for enrichment, two activies that Iran previously refused to halt. The gas can be enriched to lower levels for producing electricity or processed into high-level, weapons grade uranium.
Iran underlined on Monday that its suspension would be brief, and that it agreed voluntarilty in hopes of building confidence in the world that its nuclear ambitions are peaceful.
"Iran's acceptance of suspension is a political decision, not an obligation," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said, adding that the suspension was "the best decision under the current circumstances."
Iran's top nuclear negotiator Hasan Rowhani said the suspension will last until the completion of negotiations with Europe over Iran's nuclear program.
Asefi told reporters that the negotiations will last for a short period, but he did not elaborate.
"Our negotiations with Europe will be for a short period of time to create an atmosphere of confidence," he said.
The decision is expected to anger extremists within the hard-line camp who have called on the government to ignore international demands and even expand, not limit, nuclear activities.
Beyond agreeing to full suspension of uranium enrichment and related activities, the IAEA report said Iran had asked agency inspectors to police its commitment to the freeze, starting Nov. 22 — just three days before the IAEA governing board meets to decide what to do about Iran's nuclear activities.
The report — the seventh in a series of IAEA reports on Iran — criticized Tehran's "policy of concealment" up to about a year ago, when it started reluctantly cooperating with the IAEA.
It called Tehran to task for "many breaches of its obligations" to report all activities that could be used to make weapons to the agency under agreements it has with the IAEA.
Among the issues that still need clarification were the origins of some traces of enriched uranium found within Iran that exceeds levels Tehran said it had enriched to and questions about the Islamic Republic's development of centrifuges used to enrich uranium — a process that can be used to make nuclear fuel or the core of weapons.
While appearing to fall short in some details of a tentative deal worked out between Iran and negotiators from France, Germany and Britain, the suspension agreement appeared to satisfy demand s made in a resolution agreed to at the last board meeting in September.
In announcing suspension, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Hossein Mousavian, repeated last Sunday that it would be temporary — and suggested it had won Europe's support for its right to resume such activities eventually.
"Europe will support Iran's joining the international group of states possessing the ability to manufacture nuclear fuel" once the suspension ends, Mousavian said on Iranian state television.