GENEVA — Iran agreed in principle Thursday to ship most of its enriched uranium to Russia, where it would be refined for exclusively peaceful uses, in what Western diplomats called a significant, but interim, measure to ease concerns over its nuclear program.
The agreement was announced after more than seven hours of high-level talks in Geneva among Iran and representatives of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, which also featured the highest-level official U.S.-Iranian encounter in three decades.
Iran also pledged that within weeks it would allow the inspection of a previously covert uranium enrichment facility near the holy city of Qom, and the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, announced that he would head to Tehran to work out the details.
In Washington, President Barack Obama said the talks marked "a constructive beginning" and showed the promise of renewed engagement with Iran, but said, "Going forward, we expect to see swift action. We're not interested in talking for the sake of talking."
Despite the outward signs of progress, however, Javier Solana, Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, and U.S. officials said Iran gave no ground on demands that it halt the enrichment of uranium, which can be used for both nuclear power and nuclear weapons.
Under the tentative deal, Iran would ship what a U.S. official said was "most" of its approximately 3,300 pounds of low-enriched uranium to Russia, where it would be further refined. French technicians then would fabricate it into fuel rods and return it to Tehran to power a nuclear research reactor that's used to make isotopes for nuclear medicine.
During the talks at a villa outside Geneva, Undersecretary of State William Burns, the State Department's No. 3 official, met for about 45 minutes with Saeed Jalili, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator. At that session, which officials described as businesslike, Burns raised Iran's human rights record, the senior U.S. official said.