Iran agreed today to a draft nuclear deal hammered out by the U.S., France and Russia that would swap the Islamic Republic's low enriched uranium for higher grade, fuel alloys – a form more difficult to use in developing a nuclear weapon.
The parties spent two and a half days haggling over details of the highly technical agreement, with the International Atomic Energy Agency overseeing the talks. They now have until Friday for their governments to ratify to the draft.
In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to keep the pressure on Iran.
"If Iran is serious about taking practical steps to address the international community's deep concerns about its nuclear program we will continue to engage," Clinton said.
"Prompt action is needed on implementing the plan to use Iran's own low enriched uranium to refuel the Tehran research reactor which is used to produce medical isotopes," she said.
In Iran, the deal has been portrayed as a victory.
"The purchase of uranium [fuel rods] for Iran means the acceptance of a nuclear Iran, and this is a big success for us in international scene," said Hamid Reza Taraghi, a conservative politician, to Mehr News Agency.
Taraghi also referred to an Iranian snub of the French delegation as "a punishing revolutionary act." At one point in the talks Iran had refused to engage with the French directly, claiming that France had reneged on past nuclear deals.
A diplomat who participated in the meeting said the draft agreement closely followed an initial proposal, advanced at the Oct. 1 conference between Iran and Western powers, which would have the majority of Iran's nuclear stockpile sent abroad. At the end of that meeting, U.S. officials said Iran had agreed "in principle" to the arrangement, but Iran backed away from the suggestion in the days that followed.
If the agreement succeeds it would set a level of public cooperation between the U.S. and Iran unseen since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman and Iran's Ambassador to the IAEA Ali Asghar Soltaniyeh met on Tuesday to discuss details of the plan. Today, Soltaniyeh suggested the U.S. and Iran could work together on implementing the plan.
"I very much hope that people see the big picture," said IAEA Director General Mohamed El Baradei. "This agreement could open the way for a complete normalization of relations between Iran and the international community."
That hint of normalization has been welcome in Iran as a sign that some pressure is off the Islamic Republic.
"We've always wanted Iran to sit across from the table with the United States," said Nader Talebzadeh, a conservative filmmaker and expert on U.S.-Iranian relations. "Iran has made its point by staying firm in front of the West. It's gained what it's wanted to gain."
"It's a big step forward, what has happened this week…maybe even a turning point, not only on the nuclear profile," said Dr. Mohammad Hassan Khani, a professor at Tehran's Imam Sadegh University. "For the first time [the U.S. and Iran] could have a long consultations, negotiations, without getting angry at each other."
"Here in Tehran there are those who think we need to show the West that if they are ready to negotiate, we are the people of negotiations, we are ready to bargain," he said. Khani added, however, that he did not believe Iran would compromise on its continuing enrichment program.