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. Tehran says problems remain but nuclear deal still possible
TEHRAN (AFP) Nov 27, 2004
Iran said Saturday that differences remained between Tehran and European nations over its nuclear programme, but that a swift agreement could still avoid the issue being hauled before the UN Security Council.

"There are some minor problems which we will discuss today and tomorrow, and I hope that we will be able to finalise it on Monday," said the spokesman for the Iranian delegation to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Hossein Moussavian.

"The last suggestion by the Europeans is very close to what Iran wants," he told state radio.

Official talks between the two sides at the IAEA's headquarters in Vienna have been put off until Monday when the European Union's big three, Britain, France and Germany, are to put their recommendations to the agency's board of governors.

If a deal on suspending uranium enrichment is not reached, the IAEA can refer Iran's case to the UN Security Council.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi said earlier that certain European demands were "not acceptable" and "contrary to the Paris agreement" -- a deal reached earlier this month for Tehran to cease uranium enrichment activities.

But Kharazi added "the Europeans always have the possibility to modify these positions so that they do not contradict the Paris agreement."

Neither Kharazi nor Moussavian was specific about what was standing in the way of a deal that diplomats had hoped to wrap up on Saturday.

On November 7, Iran agreed with Britain, France and Germany in Paris to an uranium enrichment freeze in order to allay US and Israeli concern that Tehran is secretly developing nuclear weapons.

Tehran says its atomic program is a peaceful one intended to produce electricity.

But the agreement appeared in jeopardy Thursday when the Islamic republic requested an exemption for 20 centrifuges to be used for research purposes.

While centrifuges enrich uranium, which can then be used to generate electricity, or at higher enrichment levels the explosive core of a nuclear bomb, UN nuclear chief Mohamed ElBaradei said that Iran's request was to continue using the centrifuges "without using nuclear materials".

Diplomatic sources in Vienna said Britain, France and Germany were waiting for a letter from Iran promising not to activate the centrifuges so that they could report a complete suspension of enrichment activities to the IAEA.

Without such a letter, the IAEA could not adopt a resolution that noted Iranian cooperation.

Kharazi insisted that Iran's request for the centrifuges to be exempted "has never been a problem", noting that they would remain under IAEA supervision.

He also insisted that Iran was "not talking about a written guarantee."

European diplomats said the exemption request was a bargaining chip sought by Tehran ahead of reaching final agreement on the IAEA's resolution on Iran's nuclear programme.

Moussavian did not mention the 20 centrifuges, but said that progress had been made since Europe tabled an initial text, such as removing a clause that would send Iran straight to the Security Council if it failed in any of its undertakings.

But any deal must still be sold to hardliners in Iran who see Tehran's nuclear program as an expression of national sovereignty.

"The Europeans have tricked us several times," said an editorial in the ultra-conservative Jomhuri Eslami on Saturday.

Iran should resume enrichment activities and "parliament should decide on disengagement from the Non-Proliferation Treaty as quickly as possible," it added.

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