GENEVA — Iran agreed in principle Thursday to ship most of its current stockpile of 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 seven and a half hours of talks in Geneva that included 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 he would head to Tehran to work out the details.
In Washington, President Obama said the talks marked "a constructive beginning" and showed the promise of renewed engagement with Iran, but added that "going forward, we expect to see swift action. We're not interested in talking for the sake of talking."
Obama pointedly said Iran must allow unfettered access to the Qom facility within "two weeks."
Envoys from Iran and the other nations that met here — the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany — agreed to reconvene before the end of October, raising prospects for sustained negotiations after 15 months of no talks and rising tensions.
Despite the hopeful signs, however, Iranian nuclear envoy Saeed Jalili gave no ground on demands that Tehran halt the enrichment of uranium, which can be used for both civilian nuclear power and nuclear weapons, according to U.S. and European officials who were present.
"The overall problem of Iran's nuclear program remains," said a senior U.S. official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity.
The Obama administration has reversed its predecessor's course and steadily reached out to Iran since taking office. But U.S. officials, along with Israel and many lawmakers on Capitol Hill, worry Tehran will string out diplomacy with small concessions while it continues covert work toward fashioning a nuclear weapon.