BEIRUT - -Deft diplomacy and regional security woes are driving Iran and the United States toward a deal on Iran's nuclear program, experts say, illustrated by movement Wednesday in talks to transfer most of the Islamic Republic's fissile material abroad to be processed for medical uses.
Iranian, American, Russian and French diplomats agreed to a proposal by the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, for most of Iran's stockpile of nuclear material to be sent to Russia and France for further processing for an Iranian medical reactor.
The deal, which must be signed by Friday, could fall apart if one party refuses to sign or insists on late tinkering.
Modest in scope, it fails to address many of the West's suspicions about Iran's nuclear program, including its continued production of enriched uranium in defiance of the U.N. Security Council, the discovery of documents that purport to show Iran engaged in experiments consistent with a clandestine atomic weapons program or the recently revealed secret enrichment facility at a Revolutionary Guard base near Qom.
It also does not address the possibility that Iran has built a secret parallel program not subject to international scrutiny.
But the proposal would buy the U.S. and its allies a year's time by reducing Iran's stockpile below the threshold necessary to produce a nuclear bomb. It also allows Iran to retain its coveted ability to enrich uranium while building in safeguards that the material would not be diverted to produce weapons.
"Everybody who participated at the meeting was trying to help," IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei told reporters in Vienna. "I very much hope that people see the big picture, see that this agreement could open the way for a complete normalization of relations between Iran and the international community."