Iran Denies Plan to End Nuclear Standoff

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TEHRAN -- Iranian officials on Saturday dismissed a New York Times report saying Iran had offered a "nine-step plan" for resolving a standoff with the United States and its allies over its disputed nuclear program, calling the report "baseless."

The Times, quoting unnamed senior Obama administration and European officials, reported on Friday that Iran had quietly proposed a plan to Western countries in July in which it demanded that oil sanctions and other economic moves be lifted.

In exchange, Tehran would gradually suspend the production of the uranium that would be easiest for it to convert into a nuclear weapon. Iran has said that it needs to enrich uranium to a level of 20 percent purity to run future civil and medical reactors, but as part of the nine-step plan, the report said, it signaled its willingness to give up production of that medium-grade uranium.

On Saturday, Iran's nuclear top negotiator, Saeed Jalili, told state news media that Iran had never made such an offer.

"Iran has never delivered any new proposal other than what had been put forward in talks with the P5+1," Mr. Jalili told the state Islamic Republic News Agency, referring to official negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany. "The New York Times and other U.S. media reports are baseless."

The Times report did not characterize the proposal as new, but said it was based on a proposal made to European officials in July, during the negotiations with the P5+1. Details of that proposal only began to emerge in the past week or two, when Iranian officials were attending the opening of the United Nations.

Sadollah Zarei, a columnist for the influential state-run Kayhan newspaper, said that during his recent visit to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran was ready to suspend 20 percent enrichment. "But only Mr. Jalili is authorized to make decisions in the nuclear talks," Mr. Zarei said, "so when he denies, it means there has never been a 'nine-step plan.' "

Several Iranian leaders and commanders have accused Mr. Ahmadinejad of having used his September trip to the United Nations to promote direct talks with United States officials, a political taboo in Iran. Mr. Ahmadinejad's staff has denied the allegations.

As reported by The Times, the Iranian plan called for a step-by-step dismantling of the sanctions while the Iranians ended work at one of two sites where they are enriching uranium to a level of up to 20 percent purity. United States officials dismissed the plan as unworkable because Iran could easily restart its program, but the sanctions would take years to reimpose.

Western powers fear that Iran's nuclear program is a cover to make an atomic bomb and say that Iran's insistence on nuclear fuel enriched beyond 5 percent is an example of this ambition.

Last week, Iran's national currency, the rial, dropped more than 40 percent, prompting demonstrations on Wednesday. The government intervened on Saturday by trying to force money changers to sell their dollars at much lower rates, around 28,000 rials for $1, much less than the 37,500 the currency was trading for on Wednesday. Many traders said they refused to sell.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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