Iran Nuclear NewsPowers offering Iran nuclear 'time out'

Powers offering Iran nuclear ‘time out’

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AP: The U.S. and fellow permanent U.N. Security Council members have told Iran they will hold off on new sanctions if it stops expanding its uranium enrichment activities as they seek to restart talks over Tehran’s nuclear program, diplomats said Friday. Associated Press

By GEORGE JAHN

Associated Press Writer

VIENNA, Austria (AP) – The U.S. and fellow permanent U.N. Security Council members have told Iran they will hold off on new sanctions if it stops expanding its uranium enrichment activities as they seek to restart talks over Tehran’s nuclear program, diplomats said Friday.

They said the Iranian government had not yet responded to the proposal, which was made earlier this month by the six powers seeking to engage Tehran – the five permanent council members and Germany.

The public stance by Washington and its key backers remains that Iran should cease all enrichment, but the offer reflects a readiness to accept Tehran’s current program – at least initially – in hopes of reducing tensions and creating an atmosphere for negotiations.

It picks up on the idea first raised by Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency who called for a “time out” both on enrichment and on a third round of U.N. sanctions against Iran for defying a Security Council demand that Tehran freeze such work.

Iran says its enrichment work is intended only to produce fuel for nuclear reactors that would generate electricity, but the U.S. and others suspect Tehran really wants to enrich uranium to a higher level for use in nuclear bombs.

Diplomats told The Associated Press earlier this month that Britain, France and Germany were studying the “time out” proposal as a way to get talks going again to pursue the West’s goal of getting Iran to rein in its nuclear program and allay fears it is developing atomic weapons.

On Friday, the diplomats said Britain drafted the proposal that was submitted to Tehran earlier this month on behalf of the U.S., the three European nations, China and Russia.

They said the offer was delivered by the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, to Ali Larijani, Tehran’s chief international negotiator.

“Sadly they did not (yet) take it up,” said a European diplomat familiar with the issue, suggesting, however, that the offer remained on the table.

“It would only be a `time out’ because it is limited,” he said, saying the Security Council would not indefinitely stand by with Iran continuing to run its present enrichment activities.

The diplomat, and others who discussed the offer with AP, insisted on anonymity because the issue was confidential.

There have been other indications of movement in the impasse. Iran recently pledged to answer key questions on nearly two decades of its nuclear activities, most of which were conducted clandestinely until revealed by a dissident group four years ago.

Besides demanding an enrichment freeze and a halt to construction of a plutonium-producing nuclear reactor, the Security Council has called on Iran to provide answers to the International Atomic Energy Agency on activities that could be linked to a weapons program. The council has slapped two sets of sanctions on Tehran because of its defiance.

While the key issue remains enrichment, any follow-through by Iran on its decision to share sensitive information with the IAEA could feed sentiment for a compromise that would allow it to retain some elements of its enrichment program.

Officials told AP last month that Iran had considered stopping some – but not all – of its enriched-uranium producing centrifuges last year in exchange for negotiations. But the U.S., Britain and France continued to insist on a full freeze.

Multilateral talks with Iran broke off in August 2005 after Tehran rejected an offer of political and economic incentives in exchange for a pledge for long-term suspension in enrichment and resumed that work.

Iran’s stated goal is to ultimately run 54,000 centrifuges to churn out enriched uranium. It now has more than 3,000 operating and producing small low-enriched quantities.

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