TEHRAN, Iran – Iran is in the "final stages" of negotiation with diplomats from the major European powers in a dispute over nuclear arms, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi (search) said Saturday. But European envoys warned that a lasting agreement remains a long way off.
Iran has been asked to make a commitment not to enrich uranium (search) — a process that can provide material for nuclear reactors as well as bombs.
Last month, envoys from Britain, France and Germany offered Iran a deal that included a light-water research reactor if Iran pledged to abandon uranium enrichment and related activities. In a subsequent round of talks that finished in Paris on Nov. 6, a tentative agreement was reached, according to representatives from all sides.
"The negotiations we had with Europeans were very intense and important," Kharrazi said in an Iranian TV broadcast Saturday. "It's in the final stages."
Washington believes Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons under cover of a peaceful nuclear program, and President Bush has accused Iran of being part of an "axis of evil" with North Korea and prewar Iraq.
In a television interview to be aired Sunday, Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) said the United States is not seeking a regime change in Iran and has no plans to invade the country.
"That is our policy: no regime change. It is up to the Iranian people to decide what they are going to do with respect to their future and how they are going to be led," Powell told CNBC's The Wall Street Journal Report. He added, however, that "we don't approve of this regime."
Iran denies developing nuclear arms and has offered to provide guarantees that its program is strictly about producing electricity.
"Most of the questions have been answered. There is nothing else Iran can do," said Kharrazi, who was interviewed in Cairo, where he attended the funeral of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Friday.
However, European diplomats in Vienna have said the Iranian government had come back this week with a version of the Paris agreement that was unacceptable.
In his comments Saturday, Kharrazi sounded optimistic about the status of the negotiations.
"We have given them our final response and we are awaiting their final response. We hope to pass this stage in a good way," Kharrazi said.
The Europeans have warned Iran that unless it ceases all enrichment activities, they will back the U.S. push to have Iran's nuclear file referred to the U.N. Security Council, which could impose sanctions on the country. The issue is to be discussed at a meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, in Vienna on Nov. 25.
The IAEA has delayed a report on Iran's nuclear activities that had been scheduled for limited circulation Friday among diplomats accredited to the agency.
A four-person team of IAEA inspectors arrived in Tehran on Saturday, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported. It said the visit was part of routine inspections and the team would leave Nov. 23.
Iran has long argued that its signature to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty gives it the right to enrich uranium, and it wants to produce nuclear fuel rather than depend on imports.
However, Iran concealed aspects of its nuclear program until recently, and this has generated intense international pressure for it to forgo enrichment as a safeguard against the manufacture of nuclear weapons.
The nuclear program, and enrichment, enjoys wide support in Iran and is perhaps the only foreign policy issue on which all political factions agree.
Iran suspended enrichment temporarily last year, but it has refused to stop related activities such as reprocessing uranium or building centrifuges.