AP: The U.S. and five other world powers are planning talks on new strategies to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions, diplomats from the countries involved said Tuesday.
The Associated Press
By GEORGE JAHN
VIENNA (AP) — The U.S. and five other world powers are planning talks on new strategies to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions, diplomats from the countries involved said Tuesday.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the ultimate goal of getting Iran to suspend its enrichment program remained unchanged.
But three diplomats from countries involved in the discussions told The Associated Press that Washington and its negotiating partners were planning to review strategies on engaging Iran on its nuclear program. They are awaiting a formal reply from Tehran on a new meeting to follow up on the last, abortive session nearly a year ago.
Obama administration officials declined to publicly discuss possible new strategies for dealing with Iran but said the immediate goal is to get Iran back to the negotiating table.
One senior official said that could involve allowing Iran to continue enriching uranium at its current level for an as-yet undetermined length of time.
That concession was agreed two years ago by the U.S. and the five other powers — Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. The idea is to wrest a commitment from Iran not to increase its activities during the time it takes to arrange formal negotiations meant to reach a permanent agreement on the scope of Tehran's nuclear program.
That could include tolerating some form of domestic enrichment on the part of Iran at some point in the future.
In an offer made to Tehran in June — that Iran did not take up — the six nations said they were willing "to recognize Iran's right to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes" in line with its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
They also offered to treat Iran's nuclear program "in the same manner as that of any non-nuclear Weapon State Party to the NPT once international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program is restored."
But restoring such confidence — which could result in international tolerance of an Iranian enrichment program — would likely be a matter of years or longer and would come only after a period of Iranian suspension.
The U.S. official would not comment on whether the administration was willing to consider allowing Tehran to permanently run a small-scale enrichment program under the auspices of international inspectors but noted that the U.S. position has been for some time that Iran has a right to a civilian nuclear power program.
The U.S. official and the diplomats from nations in the six-country group demanded anonymity because their information was confidential.
The six nations first demanded that Iran agree to dismantle its enrichment program three years ago. In return, the six nations offered Tehran economic and political incentives.
The talks stalemated over Iran's refusal to give up enrichment — and gave Tehran to time to accelerate its efforts.
In the last two years, Tehran has amassed more than enough enriched uranium to build nuclear weapons should it choose to do so. It also has rapidly expanded the number of machines used in the process from several hundred to thousands — the International Atomic Energy puts the number of operating centrifuges at more than 5,000, while Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently boasted of having more than 7,000 in place — although he did not say all were fully running.
While the former U.S. administration was adamant in insisting that Iran scrap its enrichment program, it softened its position two years ago when it and its negotiating partners told Tehran that they could accept a continuation of enrichment for the limited time it took to agree on the time, place and concrete topics of formal negotiations.
But the concession failed to elicit a change from Iran's insistence that it would continue enrichment as part of its rights under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The decision to end America's absence at the negotiating table and send a representative to sit in the same room with Iran at the nuclear talks last year had a similar lack of effect.
The six nations issued an invitation for new talks last week, and Washington said a U.S. negotiator would participate, in keeping with the Obama administration's pledge to engage Tehran instead of attempting to isolate it.
Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Washington, David Stringer in London and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.