Iran to Offer Proposal and Speak of Peaceful Aims at Nuclear Talks in Geneva

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TEHRAN -- Iranian nuclear negotiators will offer a new proposal on Tuesday that is intended to persuade world powers that the country's nuclear program has only peaceful aims, a top official said on Sunday.

The announcement came from Abbas Araghchi, the deputy foreign minister and one of Iran's negotiators in the nuclear talks set to begin Tuesday in Geneva. Mr. Araghchi told Iranian news media that his team would present a three-step plan that would secure the independence of Iran's civilian nuclear program while giving assurances that the country is not trying to assemble atomic weapons.

"We need to move towards a trust-building road map with the Westerners," Mr. Araghchi told the Islamic Student News Agency in an interview. "To them, trust-building means taking some steps in the nuclear case, and for us this happens when sanctions are lifted."

Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, has promised Iranians that he would end the 10-year standoff with the West over the nuclear program. The sanctions have seriously impeded Iran's ability to sell oil, and have cut the country off from the international banking system.

Mr. Araghchi did not discuss details of the new plan. The foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, posted a message on his personal Twitter account on Friday saying that new proposals from his country would be presented in Geneva on Tuesday and not before. "No speculations please (of course if you can help it!!!)," he wrote.

Among the West's concerns that Iran seems prepared to address in Geneva are the country's growing stockpile of uranium that has been enriched to 20 percent, which is only a few technical steps away from being suitable for building weapons.

Iranian officials have suggested that the stockpile could be diluted to a lower level or be used to make relatively harmless fuel cells for a research reactor in Tehran.

"Of course we will negotiate regarding the form, amount, and various levels of enrichment," Mr. Araghchi said on state television on Tuesday. But he seemed to dismiss a proposal raised by the West in earlier talks that some of Iran's nuclear material be sent abroad for reprocessing. "The shipping of materials out of the country is our red line," he said.

Western officials also want Iran to stop enriching uranium up to 20 percent and close its underground enrichment bunker in Fordow.

Hard-liners in and out of the parliament in Iran have vowed in recent days that those steps would never happen. But Iran's political establishment seems determined to resolve the nuclear issue as long as there are "positive signs" from the West, insiders close to Mr. Rouhani's government say.

Iran's goal is to get the West to accept what its officials say are facts on the ground, and agree that Iran can go on enriching uranium. Since 2002, when an exile group exposed the existence of the program, Iran has managed, despite sanctions and pressures, to expand its fleet of enrichment centrifuges from a dozen to nearly 17,000. And its stockpile of uranium enriched to the lower level could be used to power Iran's sole semioperating nuclear reactor for several years to come.

"Iran will be a winner when we continue with our peaceful nuclear plans," Mr. Araghchi said. "The other side will be a winner when they are sure Iran is not after any military or nuclear weapons plans."

Analysts say that Iran needs, in turn, to be sure of the West's good faith.

"Clearly, everything stands and falls with this," said Mohammad Ali Shabani, a Tehran-based analyst who is well informed on the talks. "Iran is ready to take important steps, but for them to accept those, they will need to see some sort of endgame in which they will be sure their rights are accepted."

By an endgame, Iran means that it wants a timetable of specific steps that Iran would take to make its nuclear activities more transparent, which would ultimately lead to the West accepting that Iran has an independent civilian nuclear energy program, and the lifting of sanctions.

"We now have a new negotiating team in place, which means business and has the full authority to come to an agreement," said Hamidreza Taraghi, a conservative analyst who has the official task of interpreting the speeches and views of the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. "We will continue to enrich, but we can talk about the level of enrichment; we will continue to have our stockpile, but can discuss the size of that stockpile."

The fact that Secretary of State John Kerry will most probably not be present at the talks in Geneva on Tuesday has disappointed some in Iran, especially after the Iranians agreed during the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York in September to engage in direct talks with the United States, the country that has been the leader in imposing sanctions on Iran.

"If the world powers are serious, they must up the level of the talks to that of foreign ministers," Mr. Araghchi said on Tuesday. He said Iran does not expect an immediate response to its new offer, and that it is willing to have technical meetings on details of the plan. "Our most important worry is that we want to return the trust to the Iranian people by lifting the sanctions," Mr. Araghchi said.

Mr. Shabani said that he believed Iran would be ready to agree to sign a legal framework called the Additional Protocol, which gives the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency wider scope to inspect sites, collect samples and interview scientists. Iran agreed to voluntarily implement the protocol in 2003, when Mr. Rouhani was the country's top nuclear negotiator, but it stopped in 2005 after a breakdown in talks with European powers and the imposition of sanctions by the United Nations.

"Fully accepting the Additional Protocol would be a huge move by Iran," said Mr. Shabani. "I'm expecting this will be among the issues raised in Geneva."

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times. First Published October 14, 2013 2:01 PM


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