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Iran submits proposals for possible nuclear talks with world powers

Tehran offers no indication that discussions on halting uranium enrichment will be part of the package. The West hopes to garner support for more sanctions at a U.N. meeting.

September 10, 2009|Borzou Daragahi and Julia Damianova

BEIRUT AND VIENNA — Iran on Wednesday handed over a package of proposals for possible talks with world powers about its nuclear program, but it gave no indication that the offer would include discussions on halting its enrichment of uranium as demanded by the United Nations Security Council.

In Vienna, the United States and its European allies again condemned Iran's nuclear activities, noting that Iran has crossed or is close to the threshold for assembling enough fissile material to make one atomic bomb.

"This ongoing enrichment activity . . . moves Iran closer to a dangerous and destabilizing possible breakout capacity," Glyn Davies, U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, said at a meeting of the U.N. watchdog agency's governing board.

"We have serious concerns that Iran is deliberately attempting, at a minimum, to preserve a nuclear weapons option."

Western nations, along with Israel, suspect that Iran is preparing to build nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian energy program, a charge that the Islamic Republic vehemently denies.

The U.S. intelligence community and outside experts believe Israel has 100 to 200 nuclear weapons, making it the sole nuclear power in the Middle East.

World powers fear that a nuclear Iran could further unsettle an already-volatile region and trigger an arms race.

The U.N. Security Council has repeatedly called on Iran to halt sensitive nuclear activity until it clears up questions about the nature of its nuclear enrichment program.

The United States, France, Britain and Germany have pushed for an increase in U.N. economic sanctions on Iran but have been thwarted by veto-bearing Russia and China, which remain economically and politically engaged with Tehran.

If the West is unable to gather momentum for sanctions at the U.N. General Assembly meeting next week, diplomats say, it might try to punish Iran by pursuing restrictions at the Group of 20 summit of world economic powerhouses this month in Pittsburgh.

Details of the Iranian package, handed to diplomats in Tehran late Wednesday, were not made public.

Saeed Jalili, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, said last week that it would be an updated version of a proposal submitted last year. That proposal was dismissed by the U.S. and its allies as irrelevant.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's envoy to the IAEA, said the new proposal includes possible talks on nuclear matters.

"It covers all issues of concern and interests inter alia security, economic cooperation, nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, energy supply and demands, energy security as well as peaceful applications of nuclear energy," Soltanieh said in a statement distributed to reporters in Vienna.

"The basis of negotiations would be this package," the Iranian envoy told reporters on the sidelines of the board of governors meeting.

"And during the process of negotiations, all parties in an open-minded, pragmatic manner have to deal with the issues and any parties in any negotiations have the right to reflect their viewpoints and comments on it."

The Obama administration has offered to engage in comprehensive talks with Iran without preconditions.

But after years of what international atomic agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei described Wednesday as a "logjam," France, Germany and Britain have grown increasingly skeptical about negotiations.

The Islamic Republic has brushed aside as forgeries a set of documents that purportedly show it engaged in nuclear experiments consistent with a clandestine weapons program until 2003.

"If this information is real, there is a high probability that Iran nuclear weaponization activities have taken place," ElBaradei told the board, according to a transcript of his remarks. "But I should underline 'if' three times."

Germany's ambassador to the atomic agency, Ruediger Luedeking, decried Iran's "disrespect" for its international obligations.

"This Iranian attitude further reinforces doubts relating to the nature of Iran's nuclear program," the ambassador said, reading a statement on behalf of his country, France and Britain.

"Iran must address the lack of confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program. It should build, not reduce, confidence."


Damianova is a special correspondent.

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