President Bush said Monday that he hopes Iran’s claim that it has suspended uranium enrichment and has no nuclear weapons ambitions is true, but “there must be verification.”
Iran must “earn the trust of those of us who are worried about them developing a nuclear weapon,” Bush said at a seaside news conference during a four-hour visit with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
Earlier Monday, Iran announced it has suspended uranium enrichment. The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said he believed Iran had stopped its enrichment activities — the central part of an agreement with Europe designed to head off possible U.N. sanctions.
“Let’s say I hope it’s true,” Bush said in response to a question about the Iranian claim.
But, he added, “I think the definition of truth is the willingness of the Iranian regime to allow for verification.”
Brief radio announcement
Iran announced the cessation in a brief statement on state-run radio earlier Monday. “To build confidence and in line with implementing the Paris Agreement, Iran suspended uranium enrichment (and related activities) as of today,” it said.
In Vienna, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, said the suspension appeared confirmed.
“I think pretty much everything has come to a halt,” the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency told reporters.
ElBaradei said he expected to have a definitive ruling by Thursday on whether Iran has honored its pledge — made earlier this month — to freeze activities that can be used in energy programs — but also to make nuclear weapons.
The United States accuses Iran of secretly pursuing nuclear weapons and has pushed the international community to take a hard line.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said last week that Washington has intelligence indicating Iran is trying to fit missiles to carry nuclear weapons.
While not prohibited from enrichment under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Iran has been under intense pressure to agree to at least a freeze — if not to scrap its program — as a way of reducing international suspicions.
Iran, which insists its program is peaceful, has said the suspension will be brief, voluntary, and contingent on what Europe does next. Iranian hard-liners have accused the government of sacrificing Iran’s rights by agreeing to suspend enrichment.
Under the agreement, reached through negotiations held in Paris with Britain, France and Germany, a working committee would be formed within weeks to define what economic, technological, security and nuclear cooperation Europe will provide. It will report within three months.
Iran portrays the agreement as European support for what it sees as its right to pursue a peaceful nuclear program.
Iran radio said Monday the suspension included reprocessing uranium and building centrifuges used to enrich uranium.
In Belgium on Monday, EU foreign ministers urged Iran to confirm its suspension at an IAEA board meeting in Vienna on Thursday. The board was to focus on closing an examination of nearly two decades of covert nuclear activities in Iran.
“We reached an agreement two and a half weeks ago,” British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said. “What we are looking forward to is a translation of that text into an agreement. I hope very much Iran to come fully into compliance.”
Straw said that if Iran reneges on the deal the EU “reserves the right” to take Iran to the United Nations.
Only after Thursday’s IAEA meeting is the EU expected to move to resume negotiations for a trade and political cooperation agreement, officials said. Such a deal would likely include help to develop a peaceful nuclear energy program.
‘Powell in polite conversation’
In a related development Monday, Powell sat by his Iranian counterpart and had "polite dinner conversation" during a forum on Iraq in Egypt in a rare one-on-one encounter, a U.S. official said.
Iran and the United States do not have diplomatic relations but occasionally over the past few years their senior envoys have crossed paths at international meetings.
"During the course of dinner the secretary and the Iranian foreign minister engaged in polite dinner conversation," said a senior State Department official, who asked not to be named.
Substantive issues such as Iraq and the nuclear crisis are not considered "polite conversation," he added.
The Egyptians, hosts of the international conference on Iraq, organized the seating, putting Powell between the Iranian, Kamal Kharrazi, and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, the official said.
In November 2001, Powell took the opportunity of a post-Sept. 11 meeting on Afghanistan to shake hands with Kharrazi at the United Nations in New York. Powell has also attended two donors meetings since then where Iranian officials participated, according to U.S. officials.
The Bush administration has been under pressure from many in the U.S. foreign policy establishment to begin a dialogue with Tehran but has been divided over whether and to what degree the United States might reach out.