GENEVA — The World Trade Organization agreed Thursday to allow Iran to begin entry talks when the U.S. dropped its opposition after Iran agreed to maintain a freeze on nuclear development.

Iran said it would not restart its uranium enrichment program following talks with the European Union’s three major powers, France, Germany and the U.K.

With a population of 67.5 million, Iran is seen as a potentially lucrative market. The country first applied to begin WTO membership talks in September 1996. Its application only made it to the agenda of the trade organization’s ruling General Council in May 2001, but no action was taken because of U.S. objections.

Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Mohammad Reza Alborzi, told General Council delegates, “Today, this house, with this decision, has done service to itself by correcting a wrong.” He stressed that Iran “has substantive and extensive trade relations with nearly all states present here.”

In the past year, the EU has intensified calls for Washington to rethink its position on Iran. France, Germany and the U.K. told the U.S. that lifting its opposition would be a goodwill gesture that could help the nuclear talks. The Bush administration has accused Iran of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons.

The British, French and German foreign ministers met here with Iranian representatives on Wednesday.

Top WTO envoys from industrialized and developing countries lauded the outcome. “This decision is timely,” said Indonesian ambassador Gusmardi Bustami.

A senior Chinese diplomat who did not want to be identified said, “It’s a good decision. We have been looking for that for a long time.”

A WTO spokesman said, “One of the principle objectives of this organization is universal membership,” noting that the council will also begin entry talks regarding the island nation of Sao Tome and Principe.

This story first appeared in the May 27, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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