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EU Wants Iran to Maintain Uranium Enrichment Freeze


European Union foreign ministers are pushing Iran to maintain its temporary freeze on uranium enrichment, which the International Atomic Energy Agency says began Monday. The European Union is waiting to make sure that Iran has complied with an agreement it struck with three EU countries before the bloc moves toward closer relations with the Islamic republic.

Earlier this month, Britain, France, and Germany negotiated an accord with Iran whereby Tehran was to suspend its uranium-conversion activities in exchange for a trade and political cooperation pact with the European Union.

Iran announced that it has frozen its uranium-enrichment program. And the head of the atomic energy agency, Mohammed ElBaradei, whose inspectors are in Iran, told reporters in Vienna that it appears enrichment at Iranian nuclear facilities has stopped.

He says he will know for sure by Thursday, when his agency's board of governors holds a crucial meeting about the Iranian nuclear program.

The United States has long maintained that Iran is secretly engaged in developing nuclear weapons and wants the atomic energy agency to refer the Islamic republic to the U.N. Security Council for violating its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran has consistently denied that it wants to build nuclear weapons.

The European Union hopes that the temporary Iranian freeze on uranium enrichment will become permanent, despite Tehran's failure to disclose elements of its nuclear program to the IAEA in the past. The European Union believes that, if it continues to negotiate with Iran, the dispute can be confined to the nuclear agency and not be referred to the U.N. Security Council.

But British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, one of the mediators of the agreement with Iran, warned Tehran that it can still be hauled before the Security Council if it fails to comply with the accord.

"If there is failure by Iran to meet its obligations, then Britain, and also Germany and France, reserve our collective right to refer the matter to the Security Council," he said.

Mr. ElBaradei, of the atomic energy agency, acknowledges that there has been what he called a confidence deficit as a result of the undeclared nature of Iran's nuclear program. He says Iran needs to reassure the international community about its nuclear intentions, but adds that Tehran's pledge to suspend uranium enrichment is a positive step.

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