- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 7, 2006

VIENNA, Austria — In a major concession, the world’s great powers, led by the United States, no longer are demanding that Iran commit to a prolonged moratorium on uranium enrichment and now are asking only for a suspension during talks on its nuclear program, diplomats and officials said yesterday.

The proposal and a connected offer to allow continued uranium conversion, a step preceding enrichment, are part of an effort to avoid a showdown over international concerns that the Iranians are trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Backing off the previous stance on enrichment signals a possible readiness by the United States and key allies to accept some limited form of enrichment by Iran, despite years of warnings from Washington that Tehran wanted such technology to make atomic warheads.

Iran insists that its nuclear program is intended only to produce power, arguing that it needs enrichment technology to produce fuel for atomic reactors that would generate electricity.

One diplomat said that despite the concession, a long-term moratorium remained the preferred goal of the six nations that approved a package of incentives for the Tehran regime last week — the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany.

Beyond that, the talks are meant to reach agreement on which kind of nuclear activities Iran can conduct under conditions that dispel fears that it wants a military program.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who presented the offer to Iranian officials this week, said yesterday that the issue of enrichment would have to be reassessed once talks are completed.

He said nothing about uranium conversion. But diplomats said Iran would be allowed to continue that activity. Previously, Washington and its allies wanted a freeze on conversion, too.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said suspension was a precondition for the talks, adding: “Beyond that, I am not going to speculate. Beyond that, we are truly into the realm of the hypothetical and theoretical.”

France warned yesterday that Iran would face U.N. Security Council sanctions if it rejected the proposal for opening talks. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would support sanctions only if Iran violated the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a possible indication of continued discord among the six powers involved in the effort.

Diplomats said Germany has been advocating that Tehran be allowed some small-scale enrichment.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, backs that view, arguing that with Iran already successful in small-scale enrichment, it is unlikely to give up its right to such activity.

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