TEHRAN, Iran -- Iranian nuclear negotiators will offer a new proposal Tuesday that is intended to convince world powers that the country's nuclear program has only peaceful aims, a top official said 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.
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. 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 Fordo.
Hard-liners in and out of Parliament 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 semi-operating nuclear reactor for several years to come.
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 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.
The fact that U.S. 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 U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York City last month to engage in direct talks with the United States.
First Published October 13, 2013 8:00 PM