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. International atomic inspectors in Iran on routine checks
VIENNA (AFP) Nov 13, 2004
A team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) here have arrived in Iran to carry out routine inspections, a spokesman of the United Nations atomic agency said Saturday.

The IAEA has been conducting routine inspections in Iran since February last year.

But a diplomat in Vienna did not rule out the possibility that the team would also check on the suspension of uranium enrichment announced by the Iran government.

This question is a bone of contention in negotiations between Iran and the European Union, represented by Britain, France and Germany.

The IAEA postponed until Monday releasing a landmark report on Iran's nuclear programme as EU officials pursued talks to save a deal for the Islamic Republic to suspend uranium enrichment and avoid possible UN sanctions, diplomats said.

The IAEA on Saturday postponed for a second time in the week the release of the report to give Iran more time to hand over a letter officials hope will announce a halt in uranium enrichment, a key process that makes nuclear fuel but also the explosive core for atomic bombs, diplomats said.

The letter could then be included in the report for an IAEA meeting in Vienna on November 25 that will consider US charges that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons.

The comprehensive report is to sum up the IAEA's investigation of Iran's nuclear programme since Febuary 2003 in order to allow the agency's 35-nation board of governors to decide whether Iran is violating international safeguards against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Britain, France and Germany are trying to strike a deal for Iran to suspend all uranium enrichment activities so that the IAEA will not, as Washington wants, send the dossier to the UN Security Council, which can impose punishing sanctions.

But the European trio has said they will back the US hard-line if Iran fails to tell the IAEA that it agrees to full suspension of uranium enrichment.

Iran has since October 2003 suspended the actual enrichment of uranium as a confidence-building measure but not support activities such as making the feed gas and manufacturing centrifuges.

A Vienna-based diplomat close to the talks said Iran was not only haggling over the extent of the enrichment suspension but seeking "assurances that are difficult to grant" such as a promise that the IAEA will drop its almost two-year-long special investigation of Iran's nuclear program.

"The European trio is not in a position to guarantee what the 35-nation board will do November 25," said the diplomat.

A Western diplomat said the EU may reject Tehran's response.

The European trio were "debating internally whether to send Iran a point-by-point refutation of their reply, or to tell Iran that it must sign the agreement as is without 'side understandings'," the Western diplomat told AFP, referring to a tentative accord worked out in Paris last week.

Iranian officials handed their reply late Thursday on the proposed deal to the three countries and to Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, the French foreign ministry said.

Iran insisted Saturday it had gone as far as it could.

"We did our utmost to cooperate with the agency and build the needed confidence. Iran can take no further measures," Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi said.

"The two sides were able to work out a joint proposal and the Iranian side has submitted its decision. Now it is the turn of the Europeans to submit theirs," Kharazi was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.

"The time is ripe to close Iran's case," Kharazi said.

The EU is seeking a suspension of all uranium enrichment-related activities until a long-term agreement is reached.

In return, Europe is offering Iran civilian nuclear technology, including a light-water reactor and access to nuclear fuel, increased trade and help with Tehran's regional security concerns.

Iran wants the incentives to be delivered before a long-term agreement is concluded and also for suspension to be limited to six months and for certain enrichment activities to still be allowed, diplomats said.

A diplomat said that while the Iranians were willing to suspend making the uranium hexafluoride (U6) gas that is the feedstock for enrichment, they wanted to continue making pre-products for the feedstock, namely U4 gas and yellowcake uranium ore.

The Iranian news agency IRNA said the latest team of four IAEA inspectors had arrived Saturday and were scheduled to remain until November 23.

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