VIENNA, Austria – A deal committing Iran (search) to suspend activities that Washington says are part of a nuclear arms program was close to collapse Friday, with diplomats suggesting that Tehran (search) had reneged on an agreement reached with European negotiators just days ago.
As envoys for both sides tried to salvage the deal, the International Atomic Energy Agency delayed a report on Iran's nuclear activities that had been scheduled for limited circulation Friday.
A diplomat familiar with the IAEA said the delay was meant to give the two sides a chance to resolve the dispute and allow agency head Mohamed ElBaradei to include in his report an Iranian commitment to full suspension of uranium enrichment and related activities.
The IAEA overview on nearly two decades of clandestine activities that the United States asserts is a secret weapons program is being prepared for review by the agency's 35-nation board of governors when it meets Nov. 25. Based on the report, they will decide on possible referral of Iran to the U.N. Security Council, which could call for sanctions.
After ending talks in Paris with Iranian envoys last weekend, European diplomats said there was tentative agreement on the part of Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment — which can be used to make nuclear arms — and all related activities.
The deal leaves open the exact length of the suspension but says it will be in effect at least as long as it takes for the two sides to negotiate a deal on European technical and financial aid, including help in the development of Iranian nuclear energy for power generation.
But on Friday the diplomats told The Associated Press that Iranian officials had presented British, French and German envoys in Tehran with a version of the agreement that was unacceptable to the three European powers.
The key dispute was over conversion of uranium into gas, which when spun in centrifuges can be enriched to lower levels for producing electricity or processed into high-level, weapons-grade uranium, said the diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"The processing of what is to be enriched is the main problem," said the diplomat.
The diplomats — all of them briefed on the dispute and based in Vienna or other European capitals — said Iran was insisting that the deal allowed it to process uranium into a precursor of uranium hexafluoride, the gas introduced into centrifuges for enrichment. The diplomats said that was not allowed under the tentative deal reached in Paris.
Tehran already had drafted a letter for the U.N. agency, saying it was committed to voluntary suspension that was less than what was agreed on in Paris and would "ask for the next step, which is IAEA inspections" to shore up support before the board meeting, one of the diplomats said.
Iran suspended uranium enrichment last year but has repeatedly refused to stop other related activities such as reprocessing uranium or building centrifuges, insisting its program is intended purely for the production of fuel for nuclear power generation.
But even if Iran agrees to full suspension of nuclear activities — as demanded by the Europeans — the deal would be short of U.S. calls for an indefinite suspension.
The IAEA unanimously passed a resolution in September demanding Iran freeze all work on uranium enrichment and related activities, and the U.N. nuclear watchdog is to judge Iran's compliance Nov. 25.
Tehran has defied the agency by continuing to build centrifuges and by already converting a few tons of raw uranium into hexafluoride gas.
Iran is not breaching its Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligations by seeking to enrich uranium but is under international pressure to drop such plans as a good faith gesture.