|Iran developing new nuclear proposal: WSJ||
TEHRAN – Iran is preparing a package of proposals to halt production of 20 percent enriched uranium, a key demand of the U.S. and other global powers, according to officials briefed on diplomacy ahead of talks in Geneva next week, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.
Tehran in return will request that the U.S. and European Union begin scaling back sanctions, the officials said.
"The Iranians are preparing to go to Geneva with a serious package," said a former Western diplomat who has discussed the incentives with senior Iranian diplomats in recent weeks. "These include limits on the numbers of centrifuges operating, enrichment amounts and the need for verification."
The package from the new government of President Hassan Rouhani could revitalize long-stalled negotiations over Iran's nuclear program and underpin an emerging diplomatic thaw between Washington and Tehran.
But it also stands to test the unity of the U.S. and other international powers meeting with Iranian diplomats in Geneva in a bid to reach an accord to resolve the nuclear dispute.
In an opening salvo in the negotiations, Tehran is expected to offer to stop enriching uranium to levels of 20 percent purity.
Iran is also expected to offer to open the country's nuclear facilities to more intrusive international inspections, the officials said. And Iran is considering offering the closure of an underground uranium-enrichment facility near the city of Qom.
The international diplomatic bloc negotiating with Tehran, which comprises the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany, last met with Iran in early April, two months before Mr. Rouhani's surprise electoral victory.
The group of world powers, known as the P5+1, offered at the time to end sanctions on Iran's petrochemical exports and precious metals trade in return for Tehran suspending its production of 20 percent-enriched uranium and ceasing activities at the Qom site, known as Fordo.
U.S. and European diplomats said Iran's previous government never formally responded to the offer.
Russia and China, both P5 members, have pressed the U.S. and the European Union to begin scaling back sanctions on Tehran in an effort to underpin negotiations with Mr. Rouhani's government.
The UK, also in the P5, is demanding that Iran take concrete steps to set aside its nuclear ambitions before London scales back sanctions, Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Tuesday, adding, however, that the two countries are taking early steps toward reopening their embassies, which were closed in 2011.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and Iran have intensified direct contacts in recent weeks in a bid to strengthen the diplomacy.
President Barack Obama spoke with Mr. Rouhani in a 15-minute phone call on Sept. 27, the first conversation between an American and Iranian president in more than 30 years.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met for 30 minutes with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last month in New York. They largely focused on resolving the nuclear dispute, according to U.S. and Iranian officials.
Mr. Zarif will present the package to the P5+1 to kick off what is expected to be an intense new round of negotiations, according to these officials. He has said Tehran's new government wants to resume talks with a clean slate, and offered during meetings in New York to bring a new package when the next round begins in Geneva on Oct. 15, according to Iranian and U.S. officials.
Iran's top diplomat has declined to publicly outline his road map. But Western officials who met his delegation said the plan would focus on stopping the production of uranium enriched to 20 percent purity while agreeing to ship Iran's stockpile of the nuclear fuel to a third country for storage.
In return, Iran will seek to obtain from the international market the fuel rods needed to power the country's research reactor in Tehran.
Less certain, said the officials briefed on the diplomacy, is whether Mr. Zarif will offer in Geneva to suspend or end nuclear-fuel production at Qom.
Messrs. Rouhani and Zarif have stressed in recent weeks that Iran won't agree to suspend all of its nuclear-fuel production—a program that includes the enrichment of uranium to levels between 3 percent and 5 percent purity.
Senior Obama administration officials have refused to say whether the U.S. would accept Iran maintaining the ability to enrich uranium on its soil.
"I'm not going to negotiate in public," the Obama administration's chief Iran negotiator, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, told a Senate hearing last week. "All I can do is repeat what the president of the United States has said: We respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy."
Mr. Zarif has said that his government is committed to bringing more transparency to its nuclear program. Among the steps Tehran is expected to offer in Geneva is allowing the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, greater access to Iran's sites and the ability to call more snap inspections.
Negotiations will need to show quick results to counter domestic opposition to the talks in both Washington and Tehran, U.S. and Iranian officials say.
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