The U.S. and its partners have hammered out a revised deal to offer Iran, aimed at persuading the Islamic Republic to curtail nuclear activities that might be used to produce an atomic bomb.
The amended proposal, agreed to in recent days by the six world powers involved in the negotiations, would be put on the table at the next round of talks with Iran, according to a U.S. official who spoke yesterday on condition of anonymity because Iran hasn’t yet seen the plan. The official described it as an updated proposal from the one discussed in Baghdad in May, and not a dramatic new plan or grand bargain to address all of the international community’s concerns at once.
The U.S. and its partners -- France, Britain, China, Russia and Germany -- are seeking to restart nuclear talks in a push to persuade the Persian Gulf state to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent levels, a potential intermediate step toward bomb-grade fissile material.
The revived negotiations are seen as the best hope for avoiding a military confrontation over Iran’s disputed program as soon as next year. The U.S., European allies and Israel accuse the Iranians of pursuing a nuclear weapons capability. Iran says its program is for civilian energy and medical research
Several U.S. officials said the time is ripe for restarting talks in the aftermath of President Barack Obama’s re-election and several months before Iran’s presidential elections next June.
Helga Schmid, a senior official with the European Union, which leads the talks between the six powers and Iran, spoke by phone with Iran’s deputy nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri, “to discuss the way ahead, including possible dates and venues” for talks, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said yesterday.
The talks faltered months ago after the two sides failed to agree to a deal during three rounds of negotiations in Istanbul, Baghdad and Moscow between April and June. Negotiators for the U.S. and its partners adopted a step-by-step approach, saying any deals should be based on reciprocal actions, building toward a long-term agreement for Iran to address all international concerns about its nuclear activities.
Former diplomats involved in Iran policy, including Thomas Pickering, have urged the U.S. and its partners to restart negotiations with a revised offer as soon as possible.
What the six powers had previously proposed “is not close enough to being a realistic offer that the other side will take seriously,” said Pickering, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and former No. 3 official at the State Department. Iran’s counterproposal was “not realistic either,” he said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Each side was demanding “a horse for a rabbit,” rather than genuine reciprocal steps, he said.
It’s critical, Pickering said, for the six powers to put forward a realistic proposal soon “to see if there’s any reaction to move things ahead. If there’s not, then the situation’s worse than we thought,” Pickering said.
Earlier this year, the six powers asked Iran to halt all 20 percent enrichment, transfer medium-enriched material out of Iran and shut down its underground Fordo facility, which was built clandestinely near the holy city of Qom. In exchange, the world powers offered technical cooperation and parts for Iran’s medical research reactor, parts and repairs for commercial aircraft and help acquiring a light water research reactor for medical isotopes.
Iran, which derided the deal as unequal, asked instead for relief from sanctions that have crippled its economy and sent its currency plunging over the last year. Iran’s oil output, formerly the second-largest in OPEC, has dropped to fifth among the 12 members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries as a result of sanctions.
The U.S. and the EU have said they won’t lift all sanctions until Iran takes irreversible steps to resolve concerns about possible military dimensions of its nuclear program.
Both the U.S. and Israel have threatened military action to stop Iran from acquiring an atomic bomb.
On a separate track, officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency are in Tehran today for talks seeking to resolve questions about suspected covert military elements of Iran’s nuclear program. It will be the first meeting between the two sides since talks broke down in August.
The top goal for the IAEA delegation visiting Iran will be to win access to Parchin, a military complex about 20 kilometers (12 miles) southeast of Tehran. The IAEA says it was provided with intelligence information showing Iran may have constructed a blast chamber for testing nuclear weapons components there.