Sun, Nov 11, 2012 - Page 7 News List

US weighs broader deal with Iran to help ease sanctions


The administration of US President Barack Obama is considering a new approach in negotiations to curb Iran’s nuclear program that would ease economic sanctions faster than previously offered if Tehran makes greater concessions than it has ever discussed.

The proposal is one of several options being discussed before another round of negotiations between world powers and the Islamic republic, officials said on Friday. The US’ aim is to try to prevent the next set of talks with Iran from failing, like all previous efforts.

The strategizing is taking place amid an upsurge in diplomatic activity. The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced on Friday talks of its own in Tehran next month. Negotiations bogged down last summer over permission to investigate sites for possible secret work on nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, top negotiators from the US, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia have agreed to meet on Nov. 21 in Brussels, a Western official said, in a prelude to a possible resumption of talks between those countries and Iran early next year.

By that time, the US also could be wielding the threat of new and unprecedented sanctions against the Iranian economy that lawmakers in the US Congress are working on, according to congressional aides and people involved in drafting the measures.

The basic contours of any negotiated solution are clear: US, European and other international sanctions would be eased if Iran halts its enrichment of uranium that is getting closer to weapons-grade, sends abroad its existing stockpile of such uranium and suspends operations at its underground Fordo facility.

However, Iran’s leadership has refused to bite on that approach, even as the value of its currency has dropped precipitously against the US dollar, sparking an economic depression and massive public discontent.

That has prompted US brainstorming on ways to reshape the offer to make it more attractive for the Iranians, without granting any new concessions that would reward the regime for its intransigence, administration officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Obama administration sees Iran’s refusal to comply with its nuclear obligations as the sole cause for the logjam.

However, officials say the administration is considering an expanded offer that includes a deeper drawdown in the oil and other sanctions that are sapping billions of dollars out of the Iranian economy.

Those sanctions could be scaled back only if Tehran agrees to far greater concessions that it has ever hinted at on its fiercely defended enrichment program.

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