Diplomats Say Iran to Consider Suspending Uranium Enrichment

Iran is ready to comply — at least temporarily — with a U.N. Security Council demand that it freeze uranium enrichment and has said so at talks with a senior European negotiator, diplomats told The Associated Press on Sunday.

The diplomats, who demanded anonymity in exchange for sharing confidential information, said the compromise was mentioned by Ali Larijani, Tehran's chief nuclear negotiator, in the course of talks with top EU foreign policy official Javier Solana.

The diplomats were familiar with the substance of the discussions. One of them said Larijani floated the possibility of Iran stopping its enrichment activities "voluntarily, for one or two months, if presented ... in such a way that it does it without pressure."

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The diplomats did not say when such a contemplated move was planned.

Such a concession would be a major departure by Iran, which is under threat of possible U.N. sanctions for its defiance of a Security Council order that it cease all enrichment activities, a possible pathway to nuclear weapons.

Earlier, both Larijani and Solana spoke of progress and agreed to meet again later this week.

Their talks — held over two days — had been given little chance after months of a building crisis over enrichment, exacerbated by Tehran's defiance of a U.N. deadline to freeze such activities and a U.S.-led push for Security Council sanctions.

While neither side disclosed the substance of the talks, Solana said "the meeting was worth it," Larijani told reporters that "many of the misunderstandings were removed.

"We have reached a common point of view on a number of issues," he said.

The meeting had been billed as possibly the last chance for Iran to avoid penalties for rejecting the U.N. Security Council's demand. Both sides had said after their initial session Saturday that progress was made.

The talks were focused on establishing if there was common ground for negotiations between six world powers and Iran over its nuclear defiance. While the five permanent Security Council members and Germany have demanded that Iran fully freeze enrichment as a condition for further negotiations, Tehran has steadfastly refused to do so.

The six powers agreed in June on a package of economic and political rewards to be offered to Tehran, but only if it stops enrichment before the start of such negotiations — meant to achieve a long-term enrichment moratorium.

But the international alliance also warned of punishments, including U.N. sanctions, if Tehran does not halt enrichment — which Iran refused to do by the U.N.'s Aug. 31 deadline.

Iran's package of counterproposals, made Aug. 22, has not been disclosed but was initially dismissed as inadequate by leaders of the six-nation alliance, primarily because it did not mention the demanded pre-negotiation enrichment freeze.

Still, both men suggested the gap had been narrowed.

Their comments — and the information given the AP on Iran's readiness to consider a temporary enrichment stop — jibed with indications that positions may have shifted slightly, both for Iran and within the six-nation alliance.

European officials had suggested earlier that at least some of the six nations were ready to listen if Iran committed itself to an enrichment freeze soon after the start of negotiations instead of before talks.

The officials declined to provide details. But such readiness would be a blow to U.S.-led attempts to hold fast to the demand that Iran freeze enrichment before any talks — or face the prospect of Security Council sanctions.

One of the officials said Solana discussed the issue with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice before going into the meeting, but declined to offer details.

Before the Solana-Larijani meeting in the Austrian capital, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said Washington expected the Security Council to start discussing a draft on sanctions as early as next week, unless Tehran does a last-minute turn and agrees to halt enrichment.

But there might be opposition to that. Russia and China have resisted a quick move to sanctions even though they agree to them as the ultimate punishment. And French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy last week appeared to suggest that the demand to stop enrichment before talks was negotiable, saying: "The question is to know at what moment this suspension takes place compared to negotiations."

He later appeared to reverse himself, saying in separate comments that "suspension ... is an absolute prerequisite for restoring trust and resuming negotiations."

A European diplomat told the AP such vacillation appeared to reflect that — although Britain, France and Germany formally represent the European Union within the six-nation coalition — a sizable number of countries within the 25-member EU oppose a quick move to sanctions.

Iran says it wants to develop an enrichment program to generate power.