Iran delays breaking U.N. seals
From Journalist Shirzad Bozorgmehr
Iran has a processing plant in the city of Isfahan.
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(CNN) -- Iran has told the international atomic watchdog agency that it would refrain for now from breaking seals at a nuclear plant, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
The officials said that Iran told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of its decision not to break the seals placed by U.N. monitors, which would indicate a resumption of nuclear activity.
The seals are on nuclear program-related material at a nuclear plant near Isfahan in central Iran.
"It is extremely positive that the Iranians did step back from breaking the seals," a U.S. State Department official said.
"... There is a general sense at least for now the Iranians have moved away from any immediate action that would breach the Paris accords."
The Paris accords were signed by Iran along with France and Germany, representing the European Union.
The official said Iran had indicated it might wait until the so-called EU3 -- France, Germany and Britain -- present a proposal offering nuclear, economic and political incentives in exchange for a permanent freeze of Iran's uranium enrichment program.
In November, Iran agreed to a temporary suspension while negotiations on a comprehensive proposal continued.
"What will happen tomorrow, I don't know," the official said. "At least for the moment, by not breaking the seals ... for at least a couple of days ... that pushes somewhat further down the road the possibility of them violating" the agreement.
Although the United States is not involved in the actual negotiations, the Bush administration is being regularly briefed by the Europeans on the talks with Iran and is being kept abreast as to how proposals to Iran are taking shape.
Earlier in the day, Ali Aqa-Mohammadi, a spokesman for Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said there would be no delay in Iran's move toward resuming uranium conversion work at Isfahan. Uranium conversion is a process required before uranium enrichment can begin.
"The resumption is irreversible," he said. "The political decision has been taken. We have handed over the letter to the IAEA."
The head of the IAEA had appealed to Iranian officials Monday not to resume uranium work and to give the European Union countries more time to negotiate an extension of the November agreement.
"I also call on Iran not to take any unilateral action that could undermine the agency inspection process at a time when the agency is making steady progress in resolving outstanding issues," said Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog.
According to Aqa-Mohammadi, the resumption of conversion work would not be a slight against the EU, but was instead a bid to end meaningless delays in the process.
"Iran still looks at Europe as its partner and will continue to negotiate with the European countries," he said.
The White House on Monday warned Iran against resuming the enrichment of uranium, which Tehran said it has not done, saying Iran could face sanctions from the U.N. Security Council if it resumed its nuclear fuel work.
Iran had said it would resume work at the Isfahan nuclear fuel plant unless European countries came up with a new package of economic and political incentives to keep the program off-line.
Oil-rich Iran says it plans to use its nuclear program to produce electricity. The EU and the United States have expressed concern that the Iranians could be attempting to build nuclear weapons -- an allegation the Iranians deny.
The IAEA said in March that Iran was meeting its legal obligations, but past inconsistencies and failures to disclose information have created "a confidence deficit."
The conversion process that Iran has said it is seeking to restart would convert uranium into UF-6 gas, which can then be enriched to make fuel for generating electricity.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Iran has signed, permits uranium use for that purpose -- but the gas can also be used to create highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.
With a new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, set to take the reins of power in less than two weeks, Iran's parliament passed a law a few weeks ago that requires any Iranian government to pursue peaceful nuclear projects in the country.
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