U.S., EU: Iran must put uranium enrichment on hold throughout talks

Iran must place its uranium enrichment program on hold for the entire length of negotiations over the future of its disputed nuclear program if it wants to reap rewards offered by the United States and other nations, U.S. and European officials said Wednesday.

Nations hoping to bargain with Tehran were vague about whether Iran could ever resume enrichment and reprocessing of uranium if negotiations were successful. The enrichment process is one of the central issues in the standoff over Iran's nuclear program. It can be used both to make fuel for civilian nuclear power plants, as Iran says it intends to do, or material for nuclear weapons that the West fears Iran seeks.

"We will have to negotiate with no process of enrichment in place," European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana told reporters in Germany. "After the finalization of the negotiations, we will see what happens."

Any eventual deal with Iran could require that it give up enrichment temporarily, but give Tehran the right to resume it after convincing the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency that the program has no military purpose.

Iran has not responded to a U.S.-backed package of potential rewards or punishments that Solana delivered to Tehran on Tuesday.

Initially, the proposal would give Iran Western help for developing civilian nuclear energy, and access to nuclear fuel produced elsewhere, diplomats have told The Associated Press.

Iran has previously insisted that it must retain control of the entire nuclear fuel cycle on its own soil. The regime dominated by clerics has refused to suspend its current accelerated uranium enrichment activities.

Iran did suspend its enrichment work during a previous round of bargaining with European nations that ended in failure last year. Iran resumed enrichment activities after talks broke down, and in April announced what could be a major technical advancement that western nonproliferation experts said could produce a bomb within five years.

The United States agreed last month to join those talks if Iran met a United Nations demand to again put uranium enrichment on hold. Iran cannot enter what could be protracted negotiations while also continuing the research and practice the complicated enrichment process, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

"That condition would have to hold throughout any negotiating period," he said. "Beyond that, I am not going to speculate. Beyond that, we are truly into the realm of the hypothetical and theoretical."

The proposal was drawn up by the veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council, the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China. Details have not been released publicly. There is no deadline for Iran to respond.

"I hope that they will call me back soon to give me an answer about the content," Solana said, reports AP.


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