was seeking concessions from France, Germany, Britain and the European Union to allow it to produce enriched uranium. The New York Times
By ELAINE SCIOLINO
PARIS - In an effort to stop Iran from producing a nuclear bomb, the 25 leaders of the European Union on Friday offered Iran economic and political incentives if it suspended its production of enriched uranium.
The proposal, issued in a statement at the end of a two-day summit meeting in Brussels, coincided with negotiations that opened here in which Iran was seeking concessions from France, Germany, Britain and the European Union to allow it to produce enriched uranium. Uranium can be enriched both for peaceful purposes and to develop nuclear weapons.
In the negotiations, which stretched late into the night, the Iranians were willing only to consider a temporary suspension of perhaps six months to buy time for a broader agreement and avoid the threat of sanctions, according to officials involved in the negotiations. One European official labeled the Iranian position "suspension minus."
The goal of the Europeans, by contrast, has been to push Iran to agree to suspend its uranium enrichment indefinitely in exchange for the promise of economic and political rewards, officials said.
Iran has said that its uranium enrichment program is only for energy production purposes, claiming it as a sovereign right and a matter of national pride. On Oct. 31, Iran's Parliament unanimously passed a bill supporting the resumption of uranium enrichment. On Tuesday, Iran's president, Mohammad Khatami, ruled out a definitive halt to uranium enrichment but expressed confidence that a compromise could be reached.
"Our nation must be given the assurance that it will not be stripped of its right," Mr. Khatami told reporters at the Parliament, adding that he was optimistic that negotiations in Paris would succeed.
That sentiment was echoed by Hussein Mousavian, the Iranian negotiator in the talks, who told Iran's state television, "I am optimistic because the two parties are determined to reach an accord satisfactory to both."
The spirit of optimism seems to be grounded in two assumptions by Iran.
The first is that the Europeans seem willing to bend to Iran by offering concessions to avoid a confrontation on Nov. 25, when the United Nations' nuclear monitoring body, the International Atomic Energy Agency, meets in Vienna. The second assumption is that the international community will not have the political will to impose sanctions on Iran if it does not comply - particularly economic sanctions at a time when oil prices are so high.
Under pressure from the Bush administration, the I.A.E.A. is scheduled to rule at its meeting later this month on whether Iran has met demands that it cooperate fully to disclose its nuclear activities. The Bush administration is poised to turn the matter over to the Security Council for discussion of sanctions if Iran does not cooperate.
The Europeans, who have worked to avoid sanctions, nevertheless admit that Iran has reneged on an agreement reached with France, Germany and Britain in October 2003 to suspend uranium enrichment and to accept stricter international inspections of its nuclear sites.
In Brussels this week, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer of Germany said Iran had to "stop the fuel cycle." Otherwise, he predicted, "we are moving forward in a very serious situation."
But Iran has charged that the Europeans have reneged on their promises under last year's agreement to deliver peaceful nuclear technology and other economic incentives in exchange for its cooperation.
Mr. Mousavian has taken a hard line on the issue of uranium enrichment. "Cessation is rejected, indefinite suspension is rejected," he was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying in Tehran on Tuesday. "Suspension shall be a confidence-building measure and a voluntary decision by Iran and in no way a legal obligation."
To avoid a diplomatic showdown and to salvage last year's agreement, the Europeans proposed a package of economic incentives for Iran last month that included access to imported nuclear fuel for its reactors, help with regional security concerns, and increased trade, including access to spare parts for Iran's aging airline industry.
That incentive strategy was underscored in the European Union decision contained in the European Union's statement on Friday. "A full and sustained suspension of all enrichment and reprocessing activities, on a voluntary basis, would open the door for talks on long-term cooperation offering mutual benefits," the statement said.
The European leaders also pledged to press for long-term "political, economic and technological" cooperation and the resumption of negotiations on a trade agreement between Iran and the European Union.
In Tehran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, took the unusual step of delivering the weekly Friday Prayer sermon in which he insisted that Iran had no intention of developing nuclear weapons, which, he said, were forbidden under Islam.
"They accuse us of pursuing nuclear weapons," Ayatollah Khamenei said. "I am telling them as I have said before that we are not even thinking about nuclear weapons. Our nuclear weapon is our young and devoted youth and our believing nation."
In an interview published Friday in The San Francisco Chronicle, Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he had no clear proof that Iran was developing nuclear weapons. "We haven't seen any concrete evidence that points to a fact that Iran has a nuclear weapons program," he said in the article. "We have seen Iran experimenting with all aspects of the fuel cycle, but we still have lots of work to do."
But the United States, Britain, France and Germany and other countries believe that despite its denials, Iran is pursuing a clandestine nuclear weapons program under cover of its civilian atomic energy program.