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Iran may suspend nuclear work during talks-diplomat

Written by: Staff

BERLIN, Sep 11 (Reuters) Iran, seeking to stave off sanctions, could be willing to suspend uranium enrichment during any new talks with world powers over its nuclear programme, an EU diplomat said today.

Germany and the five permanent UN Security Council members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States offered Iran a package of economic and political incentives in June if it suspended nuclear fuel work. The package was negotiable, but the six powers said Iran had to halt all enrichment work first.

Iran has so far refused to stop enrichment. Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, however, told European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana over the weekend that Iran could possibly accept a temporary suspension once talks had commenced, an EU diplomat said.

''When negotiations are under way, Iran would suspend its programme during the negotiations. People estimate the negotiations (on the incentives offer) would take two to three months,'' the diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The UN Security Council had ordered Tehran to suspend its enrichment programme, which could produce fuel for atom bombs, by August 31 or face possible U.N. sanctions. Iran ignored the deadline and Washington now is putting pressure on the council to begin drafting a sanctions resolution.

Tehran rejects Western accusations that it wants enrichment to make fuel for atomic weapons, insisting it only wants to produce low-grade enriched nuclear fuel for power plants.

CLARITY NEEDED The diplomat said on Sunday that Iran had offered to suspend its enrichment programme for two months in a bid to avoid UN sanctions. Iran denied making such a proposal.

''It's true it's not a formal offer yet. The talks with Solana are not over. And it's not clear what they mean by suspension. Everybody has a different idea of what suspension is,'' the diplomat said.

It was crucial to know if Iran would continue small-scale enrichment research and development during any ''suspension'', which Washington might not accept, he said. He also said Solana needed to make sure that he and Larijani were not using the same words with different meanings.

''Before you start negotiations (on the incentives offer), you have to clarify the wording, make sure everybody means the same thing,'' he said.

EU diplomats say that Russia, China, France and possibly Germany would be willing to compromise and accept a freeze that began once talks were under way. However, Britain and the United States have indicated that this would be unacceptable.

The diplomat said that Larijani had also made it clear that Tehran wanted the Iranian nuclear file returned to Vienna, where it would be handled by the International Atomic Energy Agency and not the UN Security Council, which can impose sanctions.

The IAEA's governing board referred the Iran file to the Council in February.


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