- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 23, 2007

VIENNA, Austria — Iran is ready to provide answers on past suspicious nuclear activities to the International Atomic Energy Agency within the next few months, the agency’s head said yesterday after meeting with the country’s top nuclear negotiator.

But the Iranian official suggested the offer was conditional to an end of U.N. Security Council involvement in Iran’s nuclear program. The council has already imposed two sets of sanctions on the Islamic Republic over the past six months for its refusal to freeze uranium enrichment and is poised to impose new penalties.

Such terms would likely be unacceptable to the five permanent council members plus Germany — the six powers that have spearheaded the effort to pressure Iran to give up its enrichment ambitions.

The Security Council has demanded that Iran provide answers to the IAEA, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, on activities that could be linked to a weapons program. But it has also called on Iran to freeze enrichment and stop building a heavy water reactor that will produce plutonium — like enriched uranium a material that could provide the fissile core of nuclear warheads.

With the main emphasis on blunting the possible nuclear threat from Iran by depriving it of technologies that could be used for such weapons, any concession that falls short of suspending both enrichment and construction of the reactor was unlikely to be far-reaching enough.

Still, the timing of the offer by Ali Larijani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, appeared to be designed to exploit possible cracks among the six world powers. Russia and China are opposed to quick council moves to new sanctions, while diplomats say Germany in the past has appeared ready to accept a compromise that falls short of a full enrichment freeze.

The Iranian proposal, to IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, came on the eve of a new round of talks between Mr. Larijani and Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief and built on a recent offer by Mr. Larijani to provide answers to questions sought by the IAEA in its four-year Iran probe.

“I hope that in the next few weeks we should be able to start planning a plan of action, which I hope that we should be able to conclude within two months,” Mr. ElBaradei told reporters at his Vienna headquarters. “This would be key to our ability to provide assurances about … [the nature of] Iran’s nuclear program.”

But Mr. Larijani suggested the offer was conditional on reaching a “political understanding with Mr. Solana” — apparent shorthand for a deal in which the Security Council drops or at least suspends its involvement in Iran’s nuclear program.

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