Iran is believed but monitoring

Iran announced yesterday that it has frozen all uranium-enrichment programs, weakening a U.S. effort to refer its suspect nuclear activities to the &to=http://' target=_blank>U.N. Security Council.

President Bush said he hoped the statement was true but "there must be verification." Iran's claim was welcomed by Europe and cautiously endorsed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. atomic-watchdog agency. But even if verified by the IAEA, such a freeze falls short of European and U.S. hopes of an Iranian commitment to scrap enrichment ambitions.

Iran has said suspension will be only temporary and insists it has the ultimate right to enrich uranium. The oil- and natural gas-rich nation dismisses U.S. assertions that it wants to use the technology to make weapons, saying it is interested only in generating power. And Iran's announcement came only after it already had converted a few tons of raw uranium into the gas used as feedstock for enrichment. While not prohibited from doing so until yesterday — when the European-negotiated freeze took effect — conversion continued until shortly before the deadline, raising doubts about Iran's interest in dispelling international concerns, informs the Seattle Times.

Iran appears to have frozen major nuclear activities in an effort to persuade the world that it does not intend to build nuclear bombs, the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency said Monday. "I think pretty much everything has come to a halt right now, so we are just trying to make sure that everything has been stopped," Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told reporters in Vienna.

He added that operations at the &to=http://' target=_blank> Isfahan uranium conversion facility in Iran had now ended, and that the agency was in the process of applying seals to shut down operations at the country's facilities.

Dr. ElBaradei also said the atomic energy agency "hopefully" would be able to verify that Iran was honoring its commitments to freeze its uranium enrichment activities by the time the agency's 35-nation governing board begins meetings with Iran in Vienna on Thursday about how to deal with the &to=' target=_blank>nuclear program.

If Iran has indeed suspended those activities, it may make it harder for the United States to win a tough United Nations resolution that would perhaps entail an automatic referral of Iran to the Security Council for censure or even sanctions.

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