(CNSNews.com) - Iran's boast Tuesday that it had scored a "great victory" over the U.S. by dodging referral to the U.N. Security Council over its nuclear programs drew no direct response from President Bush, who characterized steps taken so far as positive.
Speaking in Canada, Bush said the Iranians' decision to suspend uranium enrichment was "a positive step" but "certainly not the final step."
"What we're interested in is them terminating a nuclear weapons program in a verifiable fashion. And we'll continue to work with our friends," he said, in reference to the Europeans who negotiated the deal that allowed Iran to escape possible U.N. sanctions.
Bush's conciliatory tone in Ottawa came after Iran's chief nuclear negotiator told a press conference in Tehran that the U.S. had been humiliated by its failure to get sufficient support to refer Iran to the Security Council.
Hassan Rowhani, who is also Iran's top national security official, said the U.S. representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog, had been "enraged and in tears, and everybody said that the Americans had failed and we had won."
"We have proved that, in an international institution, we are capable of isolating the United States," he said.
Washington has long been pressing for the IAEA to refer Iran to the Security Council, and the administration has not ruled out the possibility of doing so separately.
Rowhani also declared that his government's pledge to suspend uranium-enrichment -- the centerpiece of the agreement brokered by Britain, France and Germany -- would last only "months."
The IAEA's governing board agreed to a resolution Monday endorsing an Iranian agreement to suspend uranium-enrichment, a process that can produce material used to build nuclear weapons.
The resolution described the freeze as voluntary, rather than as a legally binding commitment, and followed an agreement negotiated with Iran by the European Union trio.
Even after the agreement, Iran tried to change its terms by demanding that about 20 centrifuges be exempted, arguing that it wanted to continue research and development during the suspension period.
The parties have given themselves until Dec. 15 -- when the Iran-EU talks are due to resume -- to resolve the centrifuge question.
Centrifuges are machines that spin at supersonic speeds to extract small amounts of fissile material from uranium. Uranium enriched at lower levels is used as fuel in power plants, while highly-enriched uranium is a key ingredient for an atomic bomb.
With the next Iran-EU talks aimed at reaching a permanent resolution to the standoff just a fortnight away, another rift already looks inevitable because of Rowhani's comments highlighting the temporary nature of the suspension.
"The length of the suspension will only be for the length of the negotiations with the Europeans," the Iranian said, adding that it would not be for too long. "We're talking about months, not years."
Rowhani also emphasized that Iran "has not renounced the nuclear fuel cycle, will never renounce it, and will use it."
His assertions strengthen the arguments of U.S. officials and analysts who are skeptical of an agreement they regard as little more than European appeasement of the Islamic republic.
"No serious person can believe that the negotiations are going to block, or even seriously delay, the Iranian race to acquire atomic bombs," American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Ledeen wrote this week.
The U.S. has argued that the only way for Iran to satisfy international suspicions about its nuclear weapons ambitions is to put an end to all enrichment and reprocessing activity.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher dismissed Rowhani's characterization of the IAEA outcome being a great Iranian victory over the U.S.
"The only thing that matters is [Iran's] performance," he told a press briefing. "Our view is that Iran is very specifically on the hook to carry through with its pledges and its promises now."
Boucher also described Rowhani's view of the situation as "jaundiced, prejudiced and counterfactual."
"Hard-line" lawmakers retook control over Iran's parliament last February after controversial elections in which fundamentalist clerics disqualified a large number of "reformist" candidates from running.
Iran holds presidential elections next spring, and many analysts predict that the political shifts in parliament could be mirrored in that poll. "Reformist" President Mohammed Khatami's second and final term ends in 2005.
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