TEHRAN, Iran – Iran (search) said Monday a preliminary agreement reached between Iran and the European Union's three big powers may be finalized soon, but hard-liners criticized the deal and called on the government to ignore calls to keep suspending nuclear activities.
The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog praised the deal as a "a step in the right direction" and said he hoped it would be finalized in "the next few days."
Mohamed ElBaradei (search), director of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (search), also said he hopes the agreement will "lead to the desired outcome" — a suspension of Iran's nuclear enrichment activities and "open the way for normalization of Iran's relations with the international community."
The preliminary agreement worked out Sunday in Paris with Britain, France and Germany needs to be approved by all four countries involved.
If approved, the deal would be a major breakthrough after months of threats and negotiations and could spare Iran from being taken before the U.N. Security Council, where the United States has warned it would seek economic sanctions unless Tehran gives up all uranium enrichment activities, a technology that can produce nuclear fuel or atomic weapons.
"The trend of negotiations was a positive trend," Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told state-run television Monday. "We hope the deal between Iran and Europeans can be finalized and create the necessary confidence."
But the hard-line daily Jomhuri-e-Eslami denounced the accord on its front page and urged the government to ignore European demands.
"Despite the fact that the Europeans cannot be trusted has been proven to all, unfortunately these people (Iranian negotiators) have again reached agreement with these three traitor European countries," the daily said.
Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Hossein Mousavian, said Sunday the agreement included the basic viewpoints of both Iran and the Europeans but didn't provide details.
Kharrazi suggested it included a short-term Iranian suspension of nuclear activities.
"Today, the talk is about continuing the suspension for a short period to build confidence," the minister said.
German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Antje Leendertse said in Berlin that the "talks were difficult but useful, and over the coming days all the participants will analyze the results."
In proposals to Iran last month, Britain, Germany and France had offered a trade deal and peaceful nuclear technology — including a light-water research reactor — if Iran pledged to indefinitely suspend uranium enrichment and related activities such as reprocessing uranium and building centrifuges used to enrich it.
The Europeans had warned Iran they will back Washington's threat to refer the Islamic republic to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions unless it gives up all uranium enrichment activities before a Nov. 25 meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. Iran has resisted any indefinite or long-term suspension, and it wasn't clear if or how that obstacle had been surmounted.
Europe and the United States fear Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons and argue that steps are needed to prevent it from doing so.
Iran is not breaching its Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (search) obligations by seeking to enrich uranium, but is under heavy international pressure to drop such plans as a good faith gesture.
Tehran suspended uranium enrichment last year but has 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.