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. Iran's de facto deadline for suspending uranium enrichment is mid-November
VIENNA (AFP) Oct 28, 2004
Iran must decide by mid-November about suspending uranium enrichment if it is to avoid possible UN Security Council sanctions, diplomats said Thursday, outlining how the UN nuclear watchdog would verify a suspension.

The watchdog's chief Mohamad ElBaradei has said it would take his International Atomic Energy Agency 10 days to verify suspension ahead of a crucial IAEA meeting on November 25 that will decide on the Iranian case, a Western diplomat said.

"November 15 is a kind of logistical deadline for the IAEA," the diplomat, who asked not to be identified, said, setting a limit to last-chance talks Iran is currently holding with the European Union.

An IAEA spokesman refused to comment on this report.

Iran and the EU failed to agree Wednesday on getting Tehran to suspend all uranium enrichment activities but will hold more talks on the matter, an Iranian official said after a meeting in Vienna.

Iran responded to an offer by Britain, France and Germany, the EU's three biggest countries, that would allow Tehran to escape potential UN sanctions over what Washington claims is a secret nuclear weapons program and receive nuclear technology by indefinitely suspending uranium enrichment.

Enrichment is the process that makes fuel for civilian reactors but also what can be the explosive core of atomic bombs.

Analysts and diplomats have said Iran was seeking to delay the matter until after US presidential elections Tuesday, and then give in just enough to avoid having the agency send Iran's dossier to the UN Security Council after November 25 as Washington seeks.

The council could impose punishing sanctions on Iran.

But they also said that the European trio, which has pushed a policy of "constructive engagement" with Iran, now seems determined to stop Iran from having the ability to enrich uranium and ready to join the US hard line if Iran fails to strike a deal and keep to its promises.

There is clearly much intense negotiating left but what was clearer after Wednesday's meeting was the time frame.

ElBaradei is to file a report on Iran some two weeks before the November 25 meeting and a diplomat said that if Iran fails to have indicated in time for the report that it is suspending all enrichment activities, the Islamic Republic will be "in big trouble because the media outcry will be enormous," as the IAEA had in September called on Iran to "immediately" halt enrichment activities.

Iran has since October 2003 voluntarily suspended the actual enrichment of uranium as a confidence-building but has refused to agree to an indefinite suspension, saying this would violate its right to enrichment under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

It also says that some parts of the fuel cycle, such as making the feed gas and the centrifuges that carry out the enrichment, should not be covered by the suspension.

The European trio demand a full and indefinite suspension of nuclear fuel cycle activities.

An expert close to the IAEA said the agency already has monitoring equipment in place at most of the sites in Iran involved in enrichment, including a facility to convert uranium yellowcake ore into the gas that is the feed material for the centrifuges that enrich uranium.

The expert said the most difficult part of the verification would be determining that Iran is not making centrifuge parts as there are workshops for this all over the country.

The expert said he thought however that the IAEA could carry out its verifications in a week.

Iran's supreme guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned Wednesday that Tehran could break off the talks if "illogical demands" were made such as long-term suspension of uranium enrichment.

A diplomat said the five hours of talks Wednesday "were at times difficult but ended on a constructive note."

The diplomat said the Iranians had clearly told the European countries that they want something in return, and quickly, for their cooperation.

The diplomat said the Iranians had said: "How can we make it clear to our political leaders and our public that we are committing ourselves without getting anything in return."

Under the European offer, Iran would receive valuable nuclear technology, including a light-water research reactor which would produce less fissionable material than the heavy-water reactor Tehran wants to build, according to a confidential text obtained by AFP.

The deal also includes a recognition of Tehran's right to peaceful nuclear technology, measures to increase trade and backing of some of Iran's regional security concerns.

But these carrots would according to the deal only come as part of a long-term agreement, to be hammered out once Iran has suspended uranium enrichment.

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