WASHINGTON – Published reports citing unnamed sources claim the United States has privately agreed with its allies that if Iran meets certain conditions, it could in the future resume uranium enrichment on its own soil.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack wouldn't confirm or deny those reports, but did disclose Wednesday one new demand by the West where Iran's suspension of enrichment is concerned.
"That condition would have to hold throughout any negotiating period," he said. "Beyond that, I am not going to speculate. Beyond that, we are truly into the realm of the hypothetical and theoretical."
Throughout the recent diplomacy on Iran's nuclear program, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has repeatedly articulated one key goal — that Iran "must suspend its current enrichment and reprocessing activities" before negotiations can begin on a civil nuclear program for Iran that would be strictly controlled by the United Nations.
Officials from other nations hoping to bargain with Tehran have been vague about whether Iran could ever resume enrichment and reprocessing of uranium if negotiations were successful. First, the nation must give up its work, said European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
"We will have to negotiate with no process of enrichment in place," Solana told reporters in Germany. "After the finalization of the negotiations, we will see what happens."
The enrichment process is one of the central issues in the standoff over Iran's nuclear program. Enriched uranium can be used both for fuel for civilian nuclear power plants, as Iran says it intends to do, or material for nuclear weapons that the West fears Iran seeks.
At the core of the issue are bitter memories of Clinton-era diplomacy with North Korea, in which it agreed in 1994 to freeze its nuclear weapons program during talks, and then cheated on that deal.
After Iran acknowledged hiding its nuclear activities for two decades, it did suspend its enrichment work during a previous round of bargaining with European nations that ended in failure last year. Iran resumed enrichment activities after talks broke down, and in April announced what could be a major technical advancement that western nonproliferation experts said could produce a bomb within five years.
So far, the regime, dominated by clerics, has refused to suspend its current accelerated uranium enrichment activities and insists on doing the work on its own soil.
Arms control hawks have urged Washington to push for the dismantlement of Tehran's enrichment program. Rice appears to share this view. Asked a week ago if Iran should "suspend uranium enrichment or stop it altogether," she replied, "Well, 'suspend' meaning that they have to stop the program."
"For good?" she was asked.
"They should stop it for good and certainly in time in negotiation that would be the issue, but for now they just need to stop," Rice said.
In an interview with FOX News, the No. 2 man in the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs stressed that any talk of the United States supporting an Iranian enrichment program is highly premature.
"We are willing to work with an Iran that is willing to re-engage in the international community on atomic energy for peaceful uses, on economic issues, on trade, investment, education, culture, and other things. But we are nowheres near there now," assistant secretary of state James Jeffrey said.
Yet Jeffrey, like McCormack, did not repeat Rice's remark from last week that Iran should stop enrichment for good.
"'Suspension' means suspension," Jeffrey said. "'Suspension' means they are not enriching on Iranian soil. And that opens the door to discussions on a wide variety of related nuclear issues."
But that door will not be open unless and until Iran, after halting enrichment, exhibits a level of cooperation and transparency in its dealings with U.N. nuclear inspectors which the fundamentalist Islamic regime has never shown before.
So far, Iran has not responded to a package of potential rewards or punishments that Solana delivered to Tehran on Tuesday. The proposal was drawn up by the veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China. Details have not been released publicly. There is no deadline for Iran to respond.
"I hope that they will call me back soon to give me an answer about the content," Solana said.
FOX News' James Rosen and The Associated Press contributed to this report.