VIENNA, Austria – Iranian negotiators at the U.N. atomic watchdog agency sought their government's approval Friday for a compromise on implementing Iran's agreement to totally freeze a nuclear program that can produce weapons-grade uranium.
France, Germany and Britain, which negotiated the suspension deal, dangled both a carrot and a stick.
Meeting a key Iranian demand, a resolution drafted for the International Atomic Energy Agency's (search) board makes no mention of earlier calls that a freeze be monitored by IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei (search), according to a copy made available to The Associated Press late Friday.
At the same time, a European Union official told AP that Iran's continued refusal to drop demands to exempt some equipment from the suspension of uranium enrichment would prompt a much harsher resolution that could include the threat of U.N. Security Council action. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, expressed hope that would not be needed.
The weakened resolution was sure to be opposed by the United States, which insists Iran is trying to make atomic weapons in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (search) and should be taken before the Security Council for the consideration of sanctions.
"The only good deal is one that's verifiable," President Bush told reporters outside his Texas ranch. He said he would be talking with the leaders of Britain, France and Germany to make sure that is the case.
Disputes over what constituted a full freeze of uranium enrichment activities dominated the second day of the agency's board meeting and led to a decision to take a break over the weekend and resume Monday.
Diplomats accredited to the agency said the postponement was meant to give time for Iranian leaders to reconsider their refusal to include all equipment in the freeze and give delegates time to ponder the draft resolution outlining future demands on Iran.
Iran's interpretation of its agreement with the European Union to freeze all activities linked to enrichment — which can produce both nuclear fuel for power generation and the material for the core of atomic warheads — raised fears the deal would be scuttled.
Anticipating that Iran would honor its Nov. 7 deal on full suspension, France, Britain and Germany had drafted a relatively mild resolution to take much of the heat off Iran after more than 11/2 years of IAEA scrutiny and diminish the threat of referral to the Security Council.
But Iran came to Thursday's opening of the IAEA meeting with demands that it be allowed to operate 20 centrifuges — which spin gas into fuel-level or weapons-grade uranium.
The compromise being weighed by the Iranian government foresees it accepting that the centrifuges are part of the freeze, diplomats said.
But instead of Iran have to accept IAEA seals on the equipment, the centrifuges could be monitored for inactivity by agency cameras, said a diplomat familiar with Iran's nuclear program, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In comments to AP, senior Iranian delegate Hossein Mousavian described the dispute as "not an important issue for Iran."
Alluding to the latest draft resolution, he said that "we now are not far from final agreement" on the language of the text.
The newest version of the draft would empower ElBaradei to "pursue his investigations" into remaining suspicious aspects of Iran's nuclear activities over the past two decades. But it removes any reference to the IAEA chief's right to monitor the enrichment freeze and advise the board of any violations, which could lead to Security Council referral.
Iran's apparent attempt to roll back on its suspension pledge quickly became the main issue at the meeting.
The Europeans said the deal committed Iran to full suspension of enrichment and all related activities — at least while the two sides discussed a pact meant to provide Iran with EU technical and economic aid and other concessions.
In the meeting's other main agenda item — South Korea — the board criticized the government in Seoul for past illicit plutonium and uranium experiments but refrained from tougher options.
A statement from Ingrid Hall, the Canadian chairwoman of the board, left open the option of harsher action, however, saying South Korea would continue to be monitored.