Iran Agrees to Nuclear Freeze; Doubts Remain

VIENNA -- An Iranian official appeared to cast doubt Monday on his country's latest commitment to a total suspension of nuclear activities capable of producing weapons-grade uranium, saying Tehran had not gone beyond agreeing not to test centrifuges that are part of the program.

Hossein Mousavian's comments were echoed in a letter on Iran's understanding of suspension and came as the UN atomic watchdog agency's board passed a resolution on how to police the freeze, in an effort to defuse a dispute that had threatened to go to the UN Security Council.

Diplomats from the European Union and elsewhere said the Iranian 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 reporters: "We [only] said there would no testing.

"Definitely, we are not going to introduce material or any gas into the centrifuges," he added, declining to answer if Iran's understanding of a freeze matches that of demands that the devices be left at a complete standstill.

In the letter, read out in part by IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky, the Iranians also only pledge "not to conduct any testing with these sets of components."

France, Germany and Britain, who negotiated the Nov. 7 suspension deal, have stated repeatedly that the freeze means all equipment, including the centrifuges, will not be allowed to operate. The Iranian interpretation appeared to fall short of these demands.

Delegates and other diplomats with nuclear expertise agreed Mousavian's remarks did not meet the European definition of suspension. But they suggested the comments were meant to ease fears among Iranian hard-liners that Tehran gave up too much in exchange for a softly worded resolution. They said they still believed Iran would not run any centrifuges during the suspension.

In Tehran, government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh said Iran had agreed not to test any centrifuges "for now." In return, France, Germany and Britain accepted Iran's demand to further water down a draft resolution on policing the suspension, which the IAEA board was to adopt.

The text adopted Monday included an extra phrase emphasizing that the suspension is not a legal or binding obligation on Tehran's part.

Western diplomats said the United States was unhappy with the draft and felt it had been left out of negotiations on the text.