(AP) VIENNA, Austria – A senior Iran delegate appeared to cast some doubt Monday on his country’s freshly delivered commitment to a total suspension of nuclear activities that can yield weapons-grade uranium, saying some centrifuges will operate despite the freeze.
The comments by Hossein Mousavian to Iranian television came just hours before the board of the U.N. atomic watchdog agency readied to approve a resolution meant to bring an end to a dispute that had threatened to go all the way to the U.N. Security Council.
Diplomats, from the European Union and elsewhere, said the commitment — sent by letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna on Sunday — fulfilled demands that Tehran include centrifuges in its total suspension of uranium-enrichment programs.
But Mousavian, the chief Iranian delegate to the meeting, suggested otherwise, telling IRIN television: “The centrifuge systems would not stop and will continue to work under the full supervision of the IAEA.”
Delegates and other diplomats with nuclear expertise suggested the comments were meant to ease fears among hard-liners in Iran that Tehran gave up too much in exchange for a softly worded resolution. They said they still believed Iran would not run any centrifuges as part of the suspension deal.
In Tehran, government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh also appeared to endorse the deal, saying Iran had agreed not to test any centrifuges “for now.”
A senior diplomat familiar with Iran’s nuclear dossier told The Associated Press the Iranian pledge appeared to contain no pitfalls and seemed to meet the European demands for full suspension.
But it came with strings attached, with France, Germany and Britain accepting an Iranian demand to further water down the language of a draft resolution they wrote for adoption by the board of the IAEA on ways of policing the suspension.
The text to be adopted Monday now includes an extra phrase emphasizing that the suspension is not a legal or binding obligation on Tehran’s part, he said.
Western diplomats said the United States — which insists Iran is trying to make nuclear weapons and wants Iran referred to the U.N. Security Council for alleged violations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty — was unhappy with the draft and felt it had been left out of negotiations on the text.
It also believed that any suspension would be short-lived — a fear shared by several EU delegates at the meeting.
Under the agreement, the 20 centrifuges Iran had previously wanted exempted would not be placed under IAEA seals but monitored by cameras, said the diplomats.
The meeting was adjourned in disarray Friday. The pause was meant to give time for the Iranian government to approve a total freeze of its program, which can produce both low-grade nuclear fuel and weapons-grade material for the core of nuclear warheads. Delegates were also to decide on further steps in policing Tehran’s nuclear activities.
The dispute about what constituted full suspension had dominated the meeting.
The Europeans insist the deal committed Iran to full suspension of enrichment and all related activities — at least while the two sides discuss a pact meant to provide Iran with EU technical and economic aid and other concessions.
But Iran came to Thursday’s opening day of the IAEA meeting with demands that it be allowed to run the 20 centrifuges — which can spin gas into enriched uranium — for research purposes.
As the clock ticked down to Monday, EU officials and delegates spoke of the growing likelihood of tough action at the board meeting if Iran remained defiant — including the start of work on a harsh resolution that could include the threat of U.N. Security Council action.
That resolution would have replaced the draft written by France, Germany and Britain containing intentionally weak language on how any freeze would be monitored by the agency in an attempt to entice Tehran to sign on to total suspension.