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Iran and EU Assign more Time for Deal

   
InternationalThe European Union and Iran have declared a deal on the Iranian nuclear programme for another two months, deferring any immediate referral of Tehran to the United Nations Security Council by the West.


After some three hours of talks with the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany on Wednesday, Iran's chief negotiator Hassan Rohani told journalists the EU would present Tehran with a package of ideas by the end of July.

The EU proposals would flesh out an accord reached last November under which Iran suspended temporarily its nuclear activities in return for economic and technological concessions.

European offer

Wednesday's pact meant Tehran would maintain that suspension, British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said.

"The EU has offered to give Iran a detailed proposal ... We believe that we could reach an agreement within a reasonably short time," said Rohani, who said he would report back to Tehran with the EU offer.

Iran says its nuclear programme is purely for generating electricity. But the United States accuses Iran of using it as a veil to develop atomic weapons. The EU, led by Britain, France and Germany, has tried to mediate.

Washington wants Tehran referred to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions if it does not agree to give up the programme.

Iran's right

Iran says it has the right to produce nuclear energy and is impatient with what it sees as EU and US efforts to stand in its way.

Before the talks Tehran had insisted that it would go ahead with converting small quantities of raw uranium to gas at a plant in central Iran, although it did not say when.

This is the first step to enriching uranium which can then be used for power or weapons.

The EU replied that this would break last year's deal in which Iran suspended all nuclear activities to show goodwill while UN inspectors verified its atomic programme.

"Everyone's interests"

"Reaching an understanding so that we can restart our work with their [Europeans'] agreement is in everyone's interests," said Iranian President Mohammad Khatami in Tehran. "But if our friends cannot reach an agreement, then we will definitely carry out our decision anyway."

One possible solution that has been floated would be for Russia to enrich the uranium for Iran, but neither side has said whether it could be acceptable.

Tehran would process uranium ore mined in its central deserts into uranium hexafluoride gas, which would be exported for Russia to enrich it into atomic fuel for use by Iran.

Some 300 conservative Iranian students shouted their support for Iran's nuclear fuel programme in Tehran on Wednesday, saying it should not be surrendered in the EU talks.

WTO membership

"Nuclear technology is our right," the crowd chanted between choruses of "Death to America".

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reacted coolly to reports of a possible compromise on Iran's nuclear programme, insisting that Tehran must completely halt its suspect activities.

But Rice insisted that an agreement struck in Paris last November to suspend work towards the enrichment of uranium "has to be observed and observed fully by the Iranians".

In an interview with reporters on Wednesday, Rice also left up in the air a US promise to lift objections to Tehran's applying for membership in the World Trade Organisation.

"This is to support the negotiations, so we're going to see how the negotiations are going and we'll see whether the time is right," the chief US diplomat said on the issue of membership.