Iran yesterday said it is not negotiating a secret temporary shutdown of its uranium-enrichment program as part of ongoing talks with the European Union, rebutting Bush administration sources who told The Washington Times that such a deal is being discussed.
Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, when asked about the report in The Times, said chief Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani and chief European Union negotiator Javier Solana will discuss what has been proposed already.
“These are not the issues to be discussed in the future negotiations, and as Mr. Larijani has said before, the P5+1 proposal will be the basis of the future negotiations with the representatives of the P5+1,” Mr. Saeedi said.
“The P5+1” is shorthand for the group of the United States, France, Russia, China and Britain, all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany. The nations have offered Iran a series of concessions if Iran agrees to stop developing its uranium-enrichment program.
The Times reported yesterday that Bush administration officials say Mr. Solana has been negotiating a deal with Mr. Larijani that calls for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment for 90 days and to keep it secret, so additional talks could be held with several European nations.
The officials oppose such an agreement as a further concession to Iran, which continues to defy a United Nations’ call for a halt to uranium enrichment, an essential step in developing nuclear weapons.
A Security Council resolution had given Iran until Aug. 31 to stop its enrichment program or face the imposition of international sanctions. Tehran ignored the deadline, but diplomacy has continued.
John R. Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Mr. Solana will hold talks on the Iran nuclear issue as early as today, but Mr. Solana has not reported back on the latest discussions.
“He will be meeting shortly with Larijani, and I think we’ll hear from him at that point,” Mr. Bolton told reporters in New York.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Solana declined to comment on the report in The Times. Diplomatic sources said Mr. Solana and Mr. Larijani likely would meet today in Brussels.
The group of nations has demanded that Iran suspend all enrichment before new talks on the incentives can be held.
The Iranians say the enrichment is for nuclear-powered electricity-generating stations, but the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) suspect Iran is working on making nuclear weapons.
The White House said the U.S. is not negotiating a secret suspension of Iranian nuclear activity. The administration has called for a verifiable suspension, which it says must therefore be public.
“What the United States has asked for repeatedly and in every instance when we talked about this is a verifiable suspension of enrichment,” said Frederick Jones, spokesman for the National Security Council.
EU spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said senior EU official Robert Cooper and Iranian official Javad Vaeedi held talks in Paris on Monday.
“We are working on the meeting with Larijani, but I will not say when nor where until it really happens,” she said. “We continue to engage with the Iranians in order to create the conditions for these negotiations.”
At the State Department, spokesman Sean McCormack said the administration hopes Iran will agree to suspend enrichment when Mr. Larijani meets with Mr. Solona, but he said “the United States will not be at the table for any negotiations absent a suspension as outlined by the IAEA and the Security Council.”
“That means there has to be a verifiable suspension, and suspension means suspension means suspension,” he said.
Asked about the deal for Iran to conduct a 90-day halt, Mr. McCormack said the answer would require having “clear and accurate insight” into Iranian decision-making, something the administration lacks.
“We’ll see. We can only judge them on what it is that they do,” he said.
“We certainly hope that the answer is: ‘Yes, we will suspend, we will verifiably suspend in order to get to negotiations.’ That’s what we want. … But we are fully prepared, along with the other members of the P5+1, to go down the track of sanctions, if that, in fact, is not the answer.”
The State Department is consulting with allies on imposing sanctions on Iran if Tehran fails to stop the enrichment, he said.
Mr. McCormack said it would be “very tricky” for international inspectors to conduct inspections in Iran in secret and that the press would likely discover the inspection.
Iran may want to call a suspension “something else,” but for the United States to rejoin talks, it would have to be a fully verifiable halt, he said. The Bush administration is convinced that Iran is deceiving the world about its intentions to develop uranium enrichment for electrical power generation and believes the effort is to develop nuclear weapons, specifically warheads for Iran’s medium-range missiles.
c Betsy Pisik in New York and Stephen Dinan contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.