GENEVA -- Speaking in English and using PowerPoint, Iran's foreign minister outlined Tuesday a proposal to constrain his country's nuclear program in return for a right to enrich uranium and an easing of the sanctions that have battered the Iranian economy.
The proposal presented by the foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, at negotiations in Geneva on Iran's disputed nuclear program, called for "an end to an unnecessary crisis and a start for new horizons," according to Iranian officials.
In a potential sign that the negotiations have turned serious after years of posturing and obfuscations, a senior State Department suggested that the closed-door discussions had been workmanlike.
"For the first time, we had very detailed technical discussions, which carried on this afternoon," said the State Department official, who declined to be identified under the diplomatic protocol for informing the news media. "We will continue the discussions tomorrow."
Michael Mann, a spokesman for Catherine Ashton, the European Union's top foreign policy official and the lead negotiator for the six big powers in the talks with Iran, said earlier in the day that the Iranian proposal had been "very useful."
Mr. Zarif presented the proposal during the initial morning session of talks with the P5-plus-1 countries -- so called because they involve the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany.
The talks are the first formal negotiations since the election of Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, who took office in August and has pledged to reach an agreement on the disputed nuclear program in an effort to end the country's prolonged economic isolation.
Iran's deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araqchi, asserted that there had been a "positive atmosphere" during the initial round of talks here, and that the reaction by diplomats to the proposal had been "good."
While Iranian officials said they wanted the details of Iran's proposal to remain confidential for the time being, the Iranian Students' News Agency, ISNA, quoted Mr. Araqchi as saying the Iranian side had made several points to address international concerns over what Iran asserts is a peaceful nuclear program but which the Western powers and Israel believe has been an effort to lay the groundwork for developing nuclear weapons.
Mr. Araqchi, according to the ISNA account, said that Iran should have a right to enrich uranium and would do so despite the demands of the Security Council that it suspend enrichment until questions about the nature of its program are satisfactorily resolved. The enrichment, he said, would continue to be monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
He also asked for international nuclear cooperation, including the provision of fuel from other nations that was enriched up to 20 percent for a Tehran-based research reactor. In exchange, the sanctions that the United States and other nations have imposed because of concerns that Iran was moving to develop nuclear weapons would be lifted, Mr. Araqchi was quoted as saying.
"Naturally, there will be a time frame for all these steps," he said, according to the ISNA report.
On Monday, a senior American official said that Iran's nuclear efforts had advanced so much that Iran needed to take steps now to halt or even reverse its nuclear program so there was time to negotiate a comprehensive agreement.
"We have always believed that we need to put some time back on the clock," said the American official, who stressed the need to constrain Iran's program and "perhaps even take it back a notch." The American official asked not to be named in accordance with the State Department's diplomatic protocol for briefing reporters.
Whether the new Iranian proposal meets that requirement was unclear.
In Israel, the talks have prompted concern that the West might relax its demands in a compromise with Iran. On Monday, for example, a senior American official here declined to say whether Iran should be allowed to produce uranium at home or be limited to acquiring nuclear fuel from other nations. In contrast, Israeli's security cabinet said on Tuesday, argued against allowing Iran to enrich uranium, saying that was against a partial agreement.
"Sanctions must not be eased when they are so close to achieving their intended purpose," the cabinet said in a statement. It added: "Israel does not oppose Iran having a peaceful nuclear energy program. But as has been demonstrated in many countries, from Canada to Indonesia, peaceful programs do not require uranium enrichment or plutonium production. Iran's nuclear weapons program does."
There has been some speculation that Mr. Araqchi might have a separate bilateral meeting here with Wendy Sherman, the senior State Department official who is leading the American delegation here. Mr. Araqchi said, however, that such a meeting had not been organized and added that he hoped the world powers would soon send their foreign ministers so the level of the negotiations could be upgraded.
"I hope that we will meet again in a period hopefully less than a month from today, and continue the talks," he said.
In the meantime, he said, the two sides were concentrating on their discussions with the P5-plus-1 countries -- so called because they involve the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany.
"At least it was welcomed," Mr. Araqchi said of the Western response. "But its details need to be explored and tomorrow we can make a final conclusion to see if we had any progress."
Iran's plan, he said, was based on the religious edict by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei against the use and production of nuclear weapons The ayatollah's paramount role was also underscored by Iran's former foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, now the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran
"The nuclear issue is above every other issue and the Supreme Leader leads the nuclear issue personally," Mr. Salehi was quoted by the semiofficial Fars news agency as saying on Tuesday. "Others are only executors."
Michael R. Gordon reported from Geneva, and Thomas Erdbrink from Tehran.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times. First Published October 15, 2013 2:01 PM