Diplomats: Iran mulls complying
Discussion of a draft on sanctions is expected soon, one official said.
VIENNA, Austria (AP) -- Iran is ready to consider complying -- at least temporarily -- with a U.N. Security Council demand that it freeze uranium enrichment, which can be used in developing atomic weapons, diplomats told The Associated Press on Sunday.
Such a concession would be a major departure by Tehran as it faces possible U.N. sanctions for its nuclear defiance and would be a huge step toward defusing a confrontation over the program it says is only aimed at generating electricity.
The compromise was mentioned by senior Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani during two-day talks that ended Sunday with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, the diplomats said.
The diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity in exchange for sharing confidential information, were familiar with the substance of the discussions.
One of them said Larijani floated the possibility of Iran stopping its enrichment activities "voluntarily, for one or two months, if presented ... in such a way that it does it without pressure." The diplomats did not say when such a move might occur.
Iran says its nuclear program is intended solely to produce fuel for nuclear reactors to generate electricity. But there are growing concerns Tehran seeks the technology to enrich uranium for use in atomic warheads.
The compromise, which would defuse a confrontation that all sides do not want, would likely be welcomed by three of the five U.N. permanent members of the Security Council who are reluctant to support a quick move to sanctions.
It might fall short of U.S. and British demands that Iran freeze enrichment before broader negotiations on its nuclear program. But Washington and London -- the chief backers of a quick move to sanctions -- might back off and accept a later freeze for the interests of maintaining council unity.
Russia and China have resisted U.S. pressure for fast action on sanctions even though they agree to them as a lever. And French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy appeared last week to suggest that the demand to stop enrichment before any talks on Iran's nuclear program begin was negotiable.
He later reversed himself. Still, such vacillation appeared to reflect that -- although Britain, France and Germany formally represent the European Union in the talks-- a sizable number of countries within the 25-member bloc are against quick punishment.
Sources of opposition
A European diplomat told AP on Sunday that much of the opposition came from Italy, Spain, Portugal and Slovenia. Italy and Spain have agitated for a larger role in talks with Iran, and Larijani met with Spanish and Italian leaders before coming to Vienna on Friday.
A European official said Solana discussed the issue with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice before going into the weekend meetings, but declined to offer details.
Solana was to brief senior representatives of the six powers today by phone on his Vienna talks in a conference call, he added. Those discussions will likely influence what steps are next taken by the Security Council.
Before the Solana-Larijani talks, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns had said Washington expected the Security Council to start discussing a draft on sanctions as early as next week.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Janelle Hironimus said the telephone conference would proceed as scheduled today and further negotiations on sanctions would be held at the United Nations later in the week.
Emerging from the Vienna talks, both Larijani and Solana spoke of progress and agreed to meet again later this week.
While neither side disclosed the substance of discussions, Solana said "the meeting was worth it," while Larijani told reporters that "many of the misunderstandings were removed."
The meeting had been billed as possibly the last chance for Iran to avoid penalties for rejecting the U.N. Security Council's demand to stop uranium enrichment by Aug. 31.
The six powers agreed in June on a package of economic and political rewards to be offered to Tehran, but only if it stops enrichment before the start of such negotiations -- meant to achieve a long-term enrichment moratorium.
Iran's package of counterproposals, made Aug. 22, has not been disclosed but was initially dismissed as inadequate by leaders of the six-nation alliance, primarily because it did not mention the demanded pre-negotiation enrichment freeze. A confidential memo from Britain, France and Germany made available to AP and sent to dozens of capitals also said it fell short.
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