The United States gave a cautious welcome on Tuesday to Iran's decision to suspend its uranium enrichment program and allow nuclear inspections, saying it would be a positive step if fully implemented.
U.S. officials have accused Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies.
U.S. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said of Tehran's decision in talks with the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Britain: "Full compliance will now be essential."
McClellan is travelling in Asia with U.S. President George W. Bush, who recently stated "we will not tolerate" construction of a nuclear weapon by Iran."
The three European nations joined Washington in demanding Tehran accept tougher inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but they recognized Iran's right to develop a nuclear energy program and held out the prospect of technical help with it in future.
McClellan said the Iranian move would be positive if the Iranians signed a protocol allowing more intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities, cooperated fully with the IAEA - the UNs nuclear watchdog - and ended uranium enrichment and reprocessing.
If all that happens, he said, "it would be a positive step in the right direction."
The "additional protocol" refers to an addendum to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) permitting more intrusive, short-notice inspections aimed at flushing out secret weapons-related activities.
McClellan thanked the British, Germans and French for their role in getting agreement from Iran, which Bush had referred to as part of an "axis of evil" along with pre-war Iraq and North Korea, which he said were rogue nations bent on developing weapons of mass destruction.
"We have been in close contact with the Europeans all along so we very much welcome the efforts by the British, German and French foreign ministers to obtain a commitment of full compliance by Iran with its IAEA and non-proliferation obligations," McClellan said.
He quoted from a statement by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw that the value of the agreement "will depend not just on the words in the communique, but above all on the implementation of what's agreed".
Asked if the United States would object to Iran having a civilian nuclear program if it carried out its promises, McClellan only repeated that if Iran abided by its pledges it would be a step in the right direction.
The United States has questioned why Iran needs a civilian nuclear program given its oil wealth.
Iran faced an October 31 UN deadline to prove it had no atomic bomb ambitions or else face possible sanctions by the UN Security Council.
The IAEA has found arms-grade enriched uranium at two facilities in Iran this year. Iran blamed the findings on contaminated parts it bought abroad on the black market.
Israel: Iran will soon have nuclear arms know-how Iran will be able to produce its own nuclear weapons without outside help within a year if it completes its uranium enrichment program, the head of IDF intelligence said Tuesday.
An Iranian security official said Tuesday that Iran would suspend uranium enrichment and allow spot checks of a nuclear program it insists is peaceful, but he did not say when the suspension would begin or how long it would last.
Israeli officials charge that Iran is covertly acquiring nuclear arms know-how, at least some of it from countries of the former Soviet Union.
Director of military intelligence chief Major General Aharon Ze'evi told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Iran is definitely working toward nuclear arms capability and will soon no longer need to seek help abroad.
"By the summer of 2004, Iran will have reached the point of no return in its attempts to develop nuclear weapons," a parliamentary official quoted Ze'evi as telling the committee.
The foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany met Iran's President Mohammad Khatami on Tuesday to press him to meet an October 31 deadline set by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to prove Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program.
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom was to fly to Germany Tuesday evening for talks with German officials, during which he would restate Israel's concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions.
The United States strongly suspects Iran has a weapons program, and Washington has been lobbying fellow members of the IAEA board to declare the country in breach of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
If Iran fails to satisfy the IAEA, the UN-sponsored agency is expected to refer the matter to the UN Security Council, which could impose sanctions.
Iran says will temporarily halt depleted uranium program A senior Iranian official said on Tuesday Tehran's decision to halt its disputed uranium enrichment programme was a temporary measure aimed at fostering trust in its peaceful intentions.
"One of the agreed points was that Iran voluntarily will temporarily suspend enrichment to show its goodwill and to create new trust between Iran and other countries," Supreme National Security Council chief Hassan Rohani told reporters.
He was speaking after a series of meetings with the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany in Tehran aimed at dispelling suspicions about Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Rowhani said Iran would sign an additional protocol to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that would allow inspectors to enter any site they deem fit without notice.
He added that Iran, for an unexplained "interim period," would suspend nuclear enrichment.
There was no indication of when Iran would suspend enrichment or sign the additional protocol.
Jack Straw of Britain, Joschka Fischer of Germany and Dominique de Villepin of France were here to press Iran to meet an Oct. 31 deadline set by the International Atomic Energy Agency to prove it does not have a nuclear weapons program.
Iran had said earlier it did not recognize the IAEA deadline, but was making progress in talks with the atomic agency.
In a joint statement Tuesday, the European foreign ministers recognized 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.
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