Thu, Jun 08, 2006 - Page 1 News List

US, Europe say they might allow Iran to enrich nuclear fuel

AFP , WASHINGTON

The US and Europe have offered Iran the possibility of carrying out uranium enrichment activities in its territory if it meets certain stringent conditions, the Washington Post said yesterday.

Contained in the "carrots and sticks" package presented to Iran on Tuesday by the US, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, the proposal says that Iran has to satisfy International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors and the UN Security Council, European and US officials told the daily.

The IAEA must determine "with confidence" that Iran's nuclear program is peaceful and the council must be satisfied that Iran is not seeking a nuclear weapon, the officials said.

Policy reversal

The offer is a policy reversal for Washington, which up to now has insisted that Iran abandon its uranium enrichment program -- which can be used in making a nuclear weapon -- before it joins international talks on Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

"We are basically now saying that over the long haul, if they restore confidence, that this Iranian regime can have enrichment at home," said one US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"But they have to answer every concern given all that points to a secret weapons program," the official said.

The package, presented by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, offers a variety of incentives and fresh multilateral talks if Tehran agrees to suspend uranium enrichment work, which can make both reactor fuel and weapons.

Carrot and stick

While being offered carrots, Iran also faces the stick of robust Security Council action, including a range of possible sanctions, if it rejects the offer and continues what the West fears is a covert weapons drive.

The decision to allow Iran to pursue its uranium enrichment program, came after weeks of intense and high-level discussions in Washington and in Tehran aimed at deflecting confrontation.

"Each side has taken a more serious look at what the other wants and how compromise can be reached," a Western diplomat told the Washington Post.

Negotiations between Tehran and Western countries concerned with the spread of nuclear weapons have been largely stymied by a US insistence that Iran abandon its uranium enrichment program and Iran's steadfast refusal to do so.

A US official who asked not to be identified said that the possibility for Iran to one day enrich uranium was "a very important part of the deal."

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