The United States and Europe are ready to compromise with Iran over its nuclear program and have tentatively approved a plan that would allow it to make the precursor of enriched uranium, senior officials said Thursday.
The officials said the plan would allow Iran to convert raw uranium into the gas that is spun by centrifuges into enriched uranium. But the actual enrichment would take place in Russia, the officials told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to reveal the strategy.
Depending on its level, enrichment can be used to generate energy or make nuclear weapons. Iran insists it is interested in the technology only to produce power, but the United States and many other countries fear Tehran wants to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels to use as the fissile core in warheads.
Iran has refused to bow to international demands that it renounce its right to enrichment and related activities and in August resumed uranium conversion. That prompted Britain, France and Germany to break off talks with Tehran meant to dispel fears about its nuclear agenda. It also led a September meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation board to approve a resolution clearing the path for Iran’s referral to the U.N. Security Council at a Nov. 24 board meeting.
Publicly, both the Americans and the three European nations representing the European Union have insisted that Iran needed to stop conversion — an enrichment-related activity — to defuse the threat of Security Council referral.
But a senior European official told the AP Thursday that the EU-Three and Washington were now prepared to allow Iran to continue conversion as long as the gas produced was shipped to Russia and enriched there. That would allow international control over the level of enrichment, ensuring that it was below the levels that can be used for weapons. The development was first reported by The New York Times on Thursday.
A diplomat close to the IAEA confirmed the change in strategy but refused to elaborate.
The official emphasized the plan would not formally be proposed by the Americans and Europeans. Instead, he said, they were looking to the Russians to make such an offer that they then could approve.
That would give Washington, Paris, London and Berlin a chance to save diplomatic face after months of saying they would not accept conversion, he indicated.