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Iran Says Enrichment Freeze in Effect

November 23, 2004|From Times Wire Services

VIENNA — Iran said Monday that it had frozen all uranium enrichment programs, a move that was likely to undercut a U.S. effort to refer Tehran's nuclear activities to the United Nations Security Council for consideration of sanctions.

Iran's statement was welcomed by Europe and cautiously endorsed by the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency.

But even if it were verified by the IAEA, the freeze would fall short of European and U.S. hopes of a commitment to scrap enrichment permanently.

Iran has said the suspension will be temporary and insists that it has the right to make enriched uranium, a material that can be used as fuel in nuclear power plants or, if processed further, in atomic weapons. Tehran has denied U.S. assertions that it wants to make weapons, saying it is interested only in generating electricity.

"Today the whole enrichment process has been suspended," Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said. President Bush reacted to the announcement with mild skepticism. "Let's say, I hope it's true," he said.

In Vienna, IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei told reporters: "I think pretty much everything has come to a halt."

U.N. inspectors are verifying the suspension and will submit a report at Thursday's IAEA board meeting.

Britain -- which, with France and Germany, negotiated a recent deal promising Iran technical and political support from the European Union in exchange for the suspension -- cautiously welcomed the move.

"Clearly the important thing is that on the one hand Iran is showing signs of compliance," Prime Minister Tony Blair's office said. "But equally, the important thing is that it does so."

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