Iran nuclear deal on hold as Tehran misses deadline
Iran missed a deadline to respond to a proposed deal. Tehran asked for more time, but some worry that it's backing away from what had been termed a possible breakthrough for easing concerns about its nuclear program.
Iran Friday backed away from approving a draft deal that would see most of its nuclear fuel shipped abroad, saying it needs more time to consider the draft proposal created by the United States and other powers eager to contain the developing Iranian nuclear program.Skip to next paragraph
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The draft agreement, which would allow most of Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium to be further processed in Russia and France to a level that could fuel a small research reactor in Tehran. It was hammered out between Iran, the US, Russia, France, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna this week. The parties agreed to respond Friday; Russia, the US, and France said "yes" early today.
But Iran said it will wait until "the middle of next week" to respond. There were other signs as well from Tehran that the government was backing away from taking the offer. Ali Asghar Soltaniyeh, Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, told state television on Friday that Iran had made its own proposals to the group in Vienna, and was waiting for a response from the US and others.
The delay suggests a lack of unity among Iranian leaders on nuclear concessions, or perhaps that Iran is simply playing for time – hoping that talks about new agreements, and not new agreements themselves, will stem a fresh round of sanctions against Tehran, something President Barack Obama has promised to push for if nuclear talks don't bear fruit by the end of the year.
Still, White House and European leaders hope sanctions won't be necessary, with the current round of talks leading to what IAEA director Mohammed ElBaradei said Friday night is a possible "new era of cooperation."
The State Department adopted a cautious tone. "We hope that they will next week provide a positive response," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters. "Obviously, we would have preferred to have had a response today. We approach this with a sense of urgency. The international community's been waiting a long time for Iran to address some of our real concerns about their intentions."
On Sunday, Mr. ElBaradei will meet with Iranian leaders as the leader of a team of IAEA inspectors who have been given permission to inspect the recently disclosed centrifuge site in the holy city of Qom.
Iran nuclear watchers express concern that the Iranian midweek response may be to ask to open new negotiations with the parties, rather than approve the draft agreement hammered out in October.
"ElBaradei is going there on Sunday. If you get an agreement on Qom, if you do this deal – there's no harm done," says David Albright of ISIS in Washington. "The danger is that ElBaradei tries to open new talks, which can lead to all kinds of tricks."