In an effort to stop Iran from producing a nuclear bomb, the 25 leaders of the EU on Friday offered the country economic and political incentives if it suspends its production of enriched uranium.
The proposal, issued in a statement at the end of a two-day summit meeting in Brussels, Belgium, coincided with negotiations that opened here in which Iran was seeking concessions from France, Germany, Britain and the EU to allow it to produce enriched uranium. Uranium can be enriched both for nuclear power reactors and to develop nuclear weapons.
In the negotiations, which stretched late into the night, the Iranians were willing 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," 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 on Friday, "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 assumption is that the Europeans seem willing to bend to Iran by offering concessions to avoid a confrontation on Nov. 25 when the UN nuclear monitoring body, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), meets in Vienna, Austria.
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 IAEA is scheduled to rule at its meeting later this month on whether Iran has met demands that it has cooperated 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 want to avoid sanctions, nevertheless admit that Iran has reneged on a much-heralded 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, the German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, 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.