- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 2, 2009

On the eve of a key meeting among major powers on possible new sanctions against Iran, its top nuclear negotiator said his country has prepared a new proposal on its nuclear program.

U.S. and European diplomats said they had seen no such proposal and cautioned that the move might be designed to buy time and provide Russia and China with a pretext to delay new U.N. sanctions. The Obama administration has set an informal deadline of late this month for Iran to start talks on the nuclear program.

Al-Alam, Iran’s Arabic-language satellite channel, quoted Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, as saying that “Iran has prepared an updated nuclear proposal and is ready to resume negotiations with world powers.”

Separately, according to the official IRNA news agency, Mr. Jalili said Iran was ready to use its “capacities to remove common concerns on the international scene.”

Both State Department spokesman Ian C. Kelly and Cristina Gallach, spokeswoman for European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, said they had not seen any new proposal.

Still, the Obama administration, which has promised to engage Iran despite its crackdown on protesters after the disputed June presidential elections, said it would talk if a real offer materializes.

The Obama administration “would review any proposal that they give us seriously and in the spirit of mutual respect,” Mr. Kelly said.

Privately, U.S. and European diplomats said Tuesday that the timing of Mr. Jalili’s comments seemed to follow a familiar pattern.

It is “typical Iranian tactics to go to the press” before a meeting on the nuclear issue, a senior European diplomat said. The diplomat asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Asked whether Washington viewed Mr. Jalili’s remarks as another attempt by Iran to buy time and escape further punishment, Mr. Kelly said: “It may well be.”

On Wednesday, diplomats from the five permanent U.N. Security Council members - the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China - as well as Germany are scheduled to meet in Frankfurt to discuss further actions if Iran continues to enrich uranium in defiance of U.N. resolutions.

Later, this month foreign ministers from those countries are expected to meet in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

Suzanne Maloney, an Iran specialist at the Brookings Institution, said she was skeptical that Iran had changed its position “given the array of people around [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and [Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei.”

Still, “everybody has been anticipating that they would” come forward with a proposal in September to deflect pressure for new sanctions, she said. “They want to be on the offensive, not defensive, diplomatically” and give the Russians and the Chinese “a lifeline” to oppose new penalties.

Ms. Maloney, who served in the Bush administration State Department working on Iran, said the Iranian government has contained much of ferment after its presidential elections, which millions of Iranians think were won by opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, although serious divisions still exist within the political elite.

“It’s not a serious prospect that you can deal with a different leadership in the short term or even the medium term,” she said, while not excluding the possibility that Mr. Ahmadinejad will not serve out his second four-year term. “You have to make policy to deal with the ugly reality but that is flexible enough to adapt if things change very quickly.”

Meanwhile, Ray Takeyh, the most senior Iranian-American working on Iran issues for the administration, returned this week to the Council on Foreign Relations after failing to secure a position on the National Security Council (NSC). Mr. Takeyh had been working with Dennis Ross who moved from the State Department to the NSC.

Ms. Maloney, who is married to Mr. Takeyh, blamed bureaucratic obstacles and said her husband’s departure did not reflect a diminution of administration priority on Iran.

Barbara Slavin contributed to this report.

• Nicholas Kralev can be reached at nkralev@washingtontimes.com.

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