of a crucial meeting with the Iranians on their nuclear programme. The diplomats said ambassadors from Britain, France and Germany were Tuesday to hand over in Tehran the EU's written offer, ahead of a scheduled meeting with Iran in Paris on Friday on Europe's request for Iran to halt uranium enrichment, which can be used to make nuclear weapons. AFP
by Michael Adler
VIENNA - The European Union is no longer explicitly calling for an indefinite suspension of Iran's uranium enrichment, diplomats said here Tuesday, outlining a compromise proposal ahead of a crucial meeting with the Iranians on their nuclear programme.
The diplomats said ambassadors from Britain, France and Germany were Tuesday to hand over in Tehran the EU's written offer, ahead of a scheduled meeting with Iran in Paris on Friday on Europe's request for Iran to halt uranium enrichment, which can be used to make nuclear weapons.
"This paper fudges the uranium enrichment question by saying suspension needs to hold until the conclusion of negotiations over the long-term status of Iran's program," sais a Western diplomat who requested anonymity.
It is "a very polished linguistic version, so to speak, to bypass that problem (indefinite suspension of enrichment)," another diplomat close to the talks said.
The EU, led by Britain, France and Germany, has until now said Iran must indefinitely suspend uranium enrichment, a key part of the nuclear fuel cycle, but Iran insists that its right to enrichment cannot be called into question, which would be the case in an indefinite suspension.
Top nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian said in Tehran that Iran could agree to maintain a suspension of uranium enrichment for half a year.
But he added: "Cessation is rejected, indefinite suspension is rejected, suspension shall be a confidence-building measure and a voluntary decision by Iran and in no way a legal obligation, and this has to be clear in our understanding."
In Brussels, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier urged Iran to produce a "lasting" halt to its uranium enrichment activities, carefully avoiding the word "indefinite" as signs emerged of a compromise deal between Iran and the EU.
The United States, which is keeping a low profile on the European initiative, wants the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at a meeting in Vienna on November 25 to take Iran before the UN Security Council for running what it claims is a secret nuclear weapons program.
The Council could then impose punishing sanctions.
The Western diplomat said the United States was "fully in waiting mode, waiting to see how the Iranians react" to the European offer, which is aimed at avoid taking Iran to the Security Council.
Europe's three major powers have vowed to offer nuclear technology, increased trade and help with Iran's regional security concerns if Tehran halts enrichment.
But Iran has said it wants these incentives to be given to it up front, instead of the Islamic Republic having to wait until the end of the negotiating process, diplomats said.
"Iran is willing to consider a suspension but wants to know what it will get in return," a non-aligned diplomat close to the IAEA told AFP Tuesday after a briefing by Iran's IAEA ambassador Pirooz Hosseini.
Mousavian's comments were echoed by President Mohammad Khatami who said: "Our nation must be given the assurance that it will not be stripped of its right (to enrich uranium)."
But of Friday's new round of talks, Khatami told reporters: "I am optimistic... Both sides are showing flexibility."
Moussavian has told the European trio that Iran's national security council is "pretty divided on the issue," a diplomat told AFP in Vienna.
Moussavian said the council has "a small majority in favor of suspension and some opposed to it," the diplomat said.
The diplomat said: "Iran now has the choice -- the Iranians can say yes (to the European offer) and things can move forward or they can say no and they know the consequences."