The Times Online: Iran today raised last minute objections to the wording of an agreement to limit its controversial nuclear programme, raising fears of a confrontation on Thursday at a key meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Kamal Kharrazi, the Iranian Foreign Minister, told Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, at a meeting in Egypt that Iran wanted
two key paragraphs reworked, two weeks after the text of the agreement was finalised in Paris. The Times Online

From Richard Beeston, Diplomatic Editor, in Sharm el-Sheikh

Iran today raised last minute objections to the wording of an agreement to limit its controversial nuclear programme, raising fears of a confrontation on Thursday at a key meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Kamal Kharrazi, the Iranian Foreign Minister, told Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, at a meeting in Egypt that Iran wanted two key paragraphs reworked, two weeks after the text of the agreement was finalised in Paris.

"We hope to have an agreement," said Mr Straw. "Minister Kharrazi made strong representations to me about some aspects of the resolution. We all look forward to it being resolved."

The deal struck earlier this month calls on Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment programme and open its nuclear facilities to inspectors from the IAEA, the nuclear watchdog.

In return Britain, France and Germany have pledged to reward Iran by boosting trade and political relations between the European Union and Tehran. They may also help Iran build a civilian nuclear programme.

The compromise also protects Iran from America, which has accused the Iranians of secretly trying to assemble a nuclear bomb and wants the regime referred to the UN Security Council for possible punitive sanctions.

Iran announced yesterday that it had suspended its enrichment programme and allowed IAEA inspectors to visit nuclear sites.

But British officials said today that Iran raised objections about the wording of the freeze on enrichment and how the suspension would be monitored. In particular the Iranians want to avoid "an automatic trigger" that could lead to the country being referred to the UN Security Council if it was found in breach of the resolution. "We have 48 hours of hard work to do," said a British official.

While the British, French and German foreign ministers pressed Mr Kharrazi in Sharm el-Sheikh, diplomats in Vienna were working through the text searching for new wording that would satisfy all sides. "We are close but not there yet."

The Iranians have made it clear that they have only "suspended" but not terminated their enrichment programme, which critics suspect is a cover for making highly enriched uranium capable of being used in a nuclear warhead. The Europeans are hoping that the suspension will be made permanent when Tehran enjoys the benefits of its improved relations with Brussels.

The wording of the final resolution must also satisfy countries like America, Australia, Canada and Japan that want guarantees that the deal will prevent Iran from pursuing a secret atomic weapons project.

IAEA sources predicted that a compromise would finally be reached. "We have had six rounds of these talks. Even when the situation looks difficult, we always seem to get a consensus at the end," said the source.

One diplomat, with long experience in dealing with the Iranians, said he was not surprised by the last minute objections. "Negotiating with the Iranians is like buying a used car. You agree on the price, but when you take delivery find there are only three wheels. There is always something that needs to be fixed," said the diplomat.