The U.S. and its allies are reviewing a proposal that would commit the U.N. Security Council to hold off on new sanctions on Iran if the country stops further development of its uranium enrichment program, diplomats said Friday. The public stance by Washington and its key backers remains a full enrichment freeze – Iran not only would have to stop expanding its capacities, but also would need to stop reprocessing of nuclear material and building equipment used for that process.
But the review reflects a potential compromise by accepting Iran’s relatively advanced enrichment program – at least initially – in exchange for renewed multilateral negotiations that aim at a long-term freeze and a rollback of the activity.
Diplomats told The Associated Press earlier this month that while the United States remained opposed, the idea was being informally discussed among Britain, France and Germany as a possible way of ending the deadlock over enrichment and permitting a resumption of talks on the issue.
On Friday, they said that the idea had become more concrete with Britain recently drafting a proposal that now was being circulated among the six nations seeking to engage Iran at the negotiating table – the United States and the four other Security Council members and Germany.
Existence of a British draft was first reported by Newsweek on Friday.
“The ‘freeze for freeze’ is an apparent precondition for the negotiations,” said one of the diplomats, alluding to Security Council readiness to “freeze” work on new sanctions if Tehran agrees to keep the status-quo on enrichment and agrees to resume negotiations. “But the ultimate goal remains long-term suspension.”
The potential compromise on enrichment comes amid other encouraging indications of movement on the nuclear impasse, with Iran recently pledging to answer key outstanding questions on nearly two decades of nuclear activities – most of it clandestine until revealed by a dissident group four years ago.
Beside demanding an enrichment freeze – and a stop to construction of a plutonium-producing reactor – the Security Council has called on Iran to provide answers to the International Atomic Energy Agency on activities that could be linked to a weapons program and has slapped two sets of sanctions on Tehran because of its defiance.
While the key issue remains enrichment, any follow-through by Iran on its decision to share sensitive information with the IAEA could feed sentiment for a compromise that would allow it to retain some elements of its enrichment program.
Officials told the AP last month that Iran had considered stopping some – but not all – of its enriched-uranium producing centrifuges last year in exchange for negotiations. But the U.S., Britain and France continued to insist on a full freeze.
The issue gained in importance last month when IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei sent a report to the Security Council that says Iran has expanded its enrichment activities instead of freezing them – a finding that could act as a trigger for a third set of sanctions.
The compromise being discussed derives from a Swiss proposal under which Iran would not expand its enrichment work in exchange for the Security Council not imposing further sanctions while diplomats pursue a resumption of formal negotiations.
Multilateral talks with Iran broke off in August 2005 after Tehran rejected an offer of political and economic incentives in exchange for a pledge for long-term suspension and resumed its enrichment activities.
Since then, Iran has repeatedly said an enrichment freeze was out of the question while the six world powers insisted they would accept nothing less as a condition for resuming negotiations.