Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Iran to agree to freeze?

Iran "might" agree to extend its freeze on uranium enrichment but warned that it could not be forced to permanently scrap its nuclear technology."

Iran's top security official suggested Monday that the country might agree to extend its freeze on uranium enrichment but warned that it could not be forced to permanently scrap its nuclear technology.

Britain, France and Germany have offered Iran a deal under which Tehran would indefinitely suspend its uranium enrichment in return for European Union help with civilian nuclear technology and a resumption of trade talks.

Enriched uranium can be used in atomic weapons and to fuel nuclear power plants.

The U.S. claims Iran is trying to covertly build nuclear weapons, but Tehran says its atomic program is strictly for generating energy.

Under the European plan, the freeze on enrichment activities must happen before Nov. 25, when the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, meets to discuss Iran's program. Otherwise, the EU will join the United States seeking to refer the issue to the U.N. Security Council.

Although Iranian officials have called the European proposal unbalanced, they also have said they want further negotiations.

In a sign Tehran may agree to the EU offer, Hassan Rowhani, secretary-general of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said an "indefinite" freeze did not mean the same thing as a "permanent" halt to enrichment.

"The Europeans say indefinite because Iran and Europe are supposed to hold negotiations for a long time," he told reporters after a meeting of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee.

"We have always said that if Iran agrees to suspend uranium enrichment … it will be voluntary because no country can force another to stop having peaceful and legal nuclear technology, not even for one hour," the official news agency IRNA quoted him as saying.

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