for an indefinite suspension of Iran's uranium enrichment ... AFP
VIENNA - Iran and the EU continue last-chance talks in Paris Friday with both sides seeking compromise over Europe's call for the Islamic Republic to suspend uranium enrichment in order to allay US-led concerns it is secretly developing nuclear weapons.
The European Union is no longer explicitly calling for an indefinite suspension of Iran's uranium enrichment, diplomats said in Vienna, and Iran has said it would consider a six-month suspension in order to move closer to EU demands.
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.
A 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 avoiding taking Iran to the Security Council.
Diplomats said ambassadors from Britain, France and Germany had Tuesday handed over in Tehran a written request for Iran to halt uranium enrichment, a process which makes fuel for civilian reactors but which can also be used to manufacture the material for the explosive core of 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," said the Western diplomat who requested anonymity.
The EU, led by Britain, France and Germany, has so far in, talks that started in October, said Iran must indefinitely suspend uranium enrichment, but Iran insists that its right to enrichment cannot be called into question by an indefinite suspension.
Europe's three major powers are offering Iran nuclear technology, including access to nuclear fuel, increased trade and help with Tehran's regional security concerns if the Islamic Republic halts enrichment.
But Iran has said it wants these incentives to be given to it up front, instead of 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 the the NAM in Vienna by Iran's IAEA ambassador Pirooz Hosseini.
The European proposal submitted Tuesday hardens the offer of incentives, including moving up the timetable for Iran to receive them, diplomats said.
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."
In Brussels, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier urged Iran on Tuesday 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.
"We are in an extremely intensive phase of discussions with the Tehran government and we are entering into this final phase of discussions with a certain optimism," Barnier told reporters at an EU meeting in Brussels.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the international community should accept Iran's "legitimate right to use nuclear power for peaceful purposes".
But on the other hand, Iran must "stop the (uranium) fuel cycle", Fischer told reporters in Brussels.
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said in Tehran of Friday's talks: "I am optimistic... Both sides are showing flexibility."