Iran to halt uranium enrichment and allow nuclear spot checks

Iran agreed to suspend uranium enrichment and allow spot checks of its nuclear programme, after talks with British, French and German foreign ministers today.

The secretary of Iran's powerful Supreme National Security Council, Hasan Rowhani, said Iran would sign an additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty that would allow inspectors to enter any site they deem fit without notice.

"The protocol should not threaten our national security, national interests and national pride," he said.

He added that Iran, for an unexplained "interim period," would suspend nuclear enrichment "to express its goodwill and create a new atmosphere of trust and confidence between Iran and the international community."

Jack Straw of Britain, Joschka Fischer of Germany and Dominique de Villepin of France wemt to Tehran to press Iran to meet a 31 October deadline set by the International Atomic Energy Agency for proving it does not have a nuclear weapons programme.

In the joint statement, the European foreign ministers recognised Iran's right "to enjoy peaceful use of nuclear energy in accordance with the Nonproliferation Treaty."

France, Britain and Germany agreed that "the full implementation of Iran's decisions, confirmed by the IAEA director general, should enable the immediate situation to be resolved by the IAEA board," the statement said.

The statement added: "Once international concerns, including those of the three governments, are fully resolved Iran could expect easier access to modern technology and supplies in a range of areas."

"It is an important day for Europe because we are dealing here with a major issue. We are talking about proliferation, which as everyone knows, is a huge challenge to the world community," de Villepin told reporters.

M. De Villepin said they had achieved important progress on the three pending issues: signing and the early implementation of the additional protocol, full cooperation with the IAEA, and suspension of all enrichment and reprocessing activities.

The United States strongly suspects Iran has a weapons programme, and has been lobbying fellow members of the IAEA board to declare the country in breach of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

If Iran failed to satisfy the IAEA, the UN agency is expected to refer the matter to the UN Security Council, which could impose sanctions on the country.

Iran is keen to stop the dispute from reaching the Security Council. Britain, Germany and France have reportedly proposed nuclear energy cooperation with Iran in return for Tehran agreeing to more intrusive nuclear inspections. Iran has said it is prepared to grant unfettered access to IAEA inspectors, but it wants to be able to buy advanced nuclear technology. Iran accuses the United States of using its influence to block such purchases.

Mr Straw had spoken with US Secretary of State Colin Powell about Tuesday's meeting. Unlike the US administration, which has characterized Iran as being part of an "axis of evil," London has sought to engage Tehran. Today's visit was Mr Straw's fifth since becoming Foreign Secretary.

In late June, Britain, France and Germany began discussing the possibility of approaching Iranian officials together, and sent Tehran a joint letter the following month urging the regime to comply with the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, of which it is a signatory.