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Page last updated at 14:39 GMT, Wednesday, 21 October 2009 15:39 UK

Hopes raised for Iran agreement

By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

The draft deal now on the table with Iran would lower immediate tensions but not solve the underlying problems.

Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Akbar Salehi
Iranian negotiators have not rushed to comment on the proposal

While it would remove most of the low-enriched uranium Iran has stockpiled, Iran has not agreed to stop enrichment and it could make up the amount in about a year.

The draft was drawn up by the UN nuclear agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), after talks in Vienna between Iran and the US, Russia and France.

The plan is to take 1,200kg of the low-enriched uranium Iran has produced (about 75% of its stockpile), enrich it further in Russia to just under 20% and then make it into fuel rods in France.

The rods would then go back to Iran, under IAEA control, to power a research reactor in Tehran producing radioactive isotopes used in the detection and treatment of cancer.

This reactor was originally installed by the US when the Shah was in power, but it is running out of fuel, which was provided by Argentina.

'Healing wounds'

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei has circulated a draft text to the governments concerned and hopes for a reply by Friday.

Mr ElBaradei, who has been something of an optimist in all the lengthy dealings with Iran, spoke in upbeat terms: "Everybody who participated at the meeting was trying to look at the future not at the past, trying to heal the wounds. I very much hope that people see the big picture, [and] see that this agreement could open the way for a complete normalisation of relations between Iran and the international community."

Diplomats from the countries negotiating with Iran might not be so sure. One remarked that dealing with Iran was "worse than in Groundhog Day".

"That was the same every day. Now you wake up and things are a little bit worse."

Perhaps not this time, if - and it is a big if - Iran accepts the agreement and it is carried through.

Confidence-building

Experts have welcomed the proposed deal.

Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, in London, feels this approach is "the best and maybe the only way" out of the crisis. He said that he and others had urged a solution based on getting the low-enriched uranium out of Iran.

While talk of further sanctions is likely to abate for the moment, an end-of-year deadline... might well yet come into play

The Obama administration, he added, had capitalised on Iran's need for fuel for its research reactor by proposing this arrangement.

Whether it serves as a model for Iran's wider nuclear power needs is more doubtful. The Iranians still insist that their domestic enrichment programme will go ahead.

So while talk of further sanctions is likely to abate for the moment, an end-of-year deadline set by Washington for serious progress towards a comprehensive solution might well yet come into play.

Western diplomats are looking for two other confidence-building measures.

The first is a follow-up to the agreement reached in Geneva earlier this month that there should be a substantive meeting with Iran on the nuclear issue by the end of October. No date has yet been set.

The other is for a proper inspection regime to be agreed for the newly-announced enrichment plant near Qom. The IAEA is to visit it on Sunday but Western governments want the IAEA to have access to documents, plans and to the scientists working there to try to assess its significance.

Paul.Reynolds-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk



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