updated 6/7/2006 4:30:25 PM ET 2006-06-07T20:30:25

Iran could continue some nuclear activity under a proposal by world powers that backs away from demands for a long-term moratorium in a bid to end an international standoff, diplomats said Wednesday.

A demand by the United States, France, Britain and Germany that Iran commit to a prolonged freeze on uranium enrichment has been softened to require only suspension during talks on an offer made by six countries Tuesday in a bid to defuse the standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program, the diplomats said.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the Islamic republic would have to stop enriching uranium during negotiations but could resume after a deal was struck.

“In principle ... they will have to stop now, we will have to negotiate with no process of enrichment in place,” he told reporters, confirming diplomats’ description of the package’s contents. “After the finalization of the negotiations we will see what happens.”

Solana said the six-country offer came with a “relatively short” time frame, adding that he expected a response within “weeks.”

In another concession, Iran would be allowed to carry out uranium conversion — a precursor to enrichment — if it agrees to multinational talks, the diplomats told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to divulge the contents of the offer.

Such changes to long-standing international demands signal possible readiness to accept some form of Iranian nuclear activity, despite the fact that enrichment can be used to make fissile material for atomic warheads instead of fuel for peaceful reactors.

Since talks between the three key European nations and Iran broke off in August, U.S. and European diplomats had publicly said Iran must commit to a long-term moratorium to establish confidence as a precondition for talks.

Resignation to enrichment
Diplomats have told the AP that Germany — which participated in drawing up the six-nation package of perks and punishments meant to ultimately wean Iran off enrichment — has been advocating that Tehran be allowed such activity on a small scale. Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, has backed that view.

Iran announced April 11 that it had enriched uranium for the first time, using 164 centrifuges. Still, the country would need tens of thousands of centrifuges to produce adequate fuel for a nuclear reactor or material for a warhead.

In an April report, ElBaradei said Iran’s claim to have enriched small amounts to a level of 3.6 percent — fuel-grade uranium as opposed to weapons-grade enrichment of more than 90 percent — appeared to be true.

The report also said uranium conversion “is still ongoing,” adding that more than 120 tons have been converted over the past eight months. Were it used for weapons, that amount would be enough for more than 15 crude nuclear bombs, according to experts.

The offer to Iran was approved last week in Vienna by the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — the five permanent U.N. Security Council members — plus Germany.

U.S. could provide nuclear tech
While it has not been made public, some of the offer’s contents have been leaked, revealed major concessions by the United States including an offer to join key European nations in providing some nuclear technology to Tehran if it stops enriching uranium, diplomats say.

Providing additional details, a diplomat said Wednesday that the package dangles the prospect of lifting an embargo on airplane parts and planes, letting Iran replenish its aging civilian fleet of Boeing and other planes.

Washington broke with decades of official policy of no high-level diplomatic contacts with Tehran, just last week announcing it was ready to join in multination talks with the Islamic republic over its nuclear program.

One of the diplomats described the U.S. nuclear offer as particularly significant because it would, in effect, loosen a decades-long American embargo on giving Iran access to “dual-use” technologies — equipment and know-how with civilian and military applications.

Diplomats said that in presenting the incentives to Iranian officials on Tuesday, Solana withheld the other part of the package — a series of measures that could punish Tehran if it does not stop enrichment.

Bush: ‘A positive response’
Solana did that so as not to jeopardize the “positive” atmosphere, one of the diplomats said.

Those possible penalties include U.N. Security Council sanctions such as travel bans on Iranian government figures and a freeze of their foreign assets. But in a bow to Russia and China, they contain no threat of military action, diplomats have said.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said his country would support sanctions against Iran only if it violates the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It was unclear whether his comments meant Russia was backing away from its reported commitment to firm U.N. action if Tehran rejects the package.

President Bush said Tuesday that the U.S. would wait to see how Iran reacts to the package, but appeared to welcome initial suggestions from Tehran that it was worth examining.

“I have said the United States will come and sit down at the table with them so long as they are willing to suspend their enrichment in a verifiable way,” Bush said. “So it sounds like a positive response to me.”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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