VIENNA (AFP) -Iran has set a list of conditions in offering to consider a two-month suspension of uranium enrichment, but the United States has welcomed progress made in weekend talks between the EU and Iran.
Top Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani and European foreign policy chief Javier Solana held talks here at the weekend to try to find a compromise to reopen talks on Iran’s disputed nuclear program and avoid threatened UN sanctions.
In the closed-door meetings Iran “had a long list (of conditions) including (a) complete and total halt in activity at the UN Security Council, an absolute stepping down from going for sanctions and that Iran would have the right to nuclear fuel technology on its soil,” a Western diplomat told AFP on Monday.
“In return for this, Larijani said the Iranians would consider — consider, not actually carry out — a two-month halt in enrichment. It was all very conditional,” the diplomat said, in relating a briefing from Solana.
The Iranian offer first revealed Sunday had raised hopes of a breakthrough in the international standoff over Iran’s nuclear ambitions but the diplomat said that Larijani’s conditions dashed these hopes.
But the conditions are “unacceptable” to the six world powers who have offered Iran talks on a package of trade and other benefits because they would guarantee Tehran the right to sensitive nuclear fuel work and protect it from any punitive UN action, said the diplomat, who asked to remain anonymous due to the confidentiality of the information.
Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States want a full and unconditional suspension of uranium enrichment to start the negotiations, the diplomat said.
Enrichment is the strategic process which makes nuclear reactor fuel but also atom bomb material.
The United States and European countries fear Iran is trying to develop a nuclear bomb, but Tehran says its program aims only to produce energy.
Iran has refused, however, to suspend enrichment and defied a UN Security Council August 31 deadline for it to freeze the strategic nuclear fuel work or face possible sanctions.
The United States is expected to begin work as soon as this week on a draft UN resolution imposing sanctions on Iran, even though Russia and China are reluctant to move towards a confrontation.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday did not rule out accepting the possible offer from Iran to temporarily halt uranium enrichment, but insisted a suspension be in place and verifiable before any negotiations on resolving the deadlock over Iran’s disputed nuclear program.
Rice, during a visit to Canada, sidestepped whether the United States would accept a temporary suspension, but pointed out that a halt to enrichment work would bring about the halt to sanctions efforts that Tehran desires.
“If the Iranians are in a state of suspension, then we would be prepared not to have activity in the Security Council. But there has to be suspension if there is going to be any negotiations,” she said.
Rice’s remarks indicated a willingness to let talks play out between Iran and Solana even as Washington pushes for UN Security Council action against Tehran.
“From our point of view, we’ve got nothing to lose by, as we work toward the sanctions resolution, having Javier Solana explore with the Iranians whether there is a way to get to the negotiations,” she told reporters.
Solana and Larijani are expected to meet again this week.
Rice noted there has yet to be a formal offer on halting enrichment, and warned Tehran had to move quickly as the United States won’t allow it to stall UN action.
“The time is coming very soon when we’re going to have to adopt a Security Council resolution,” Rice said.
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan was not hopeful a compromise can be reached, in an interview published in The Financial Times.
Annan said he felt the world’s powers and Iran were “headed for a confrontation, unless we find a way to get all the people to step back and reflect. But I am not sure how much room for flexibility either side is going to give.”