GENEVA -- Speaking in English and using PowerPoint, Iran's foreign minister outlined a proposal Tuesday to constrain his country's nuclear program in return for a right to enrich uranium and an easing of the sanctions that have been battering the Iranian economy.
After the discussions ended, Iran's deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, and his team met for about an hour at the United Nations headquarters here with the U.S. delegation, which is led by Wendy Sherman, a senior State Department official.
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 delays and obfuscations, a senior State Department official 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 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 -- the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany.
The talks are the first formal negotiations between the P5-plus-1 and Iran since the election of new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who took office in August and has pledged to reach an agreement on the nuclear program in an effort to end the country's prolonged economic isolation.
Iranian officials said they wanted details of Iran's proposal to remain confidential for the time being. But the Iranian Students' News Agency, ISNA, quoted Mr. Araghchi as saying the Iranian side had made several points to address international concerns over what Iran asserts is the groundwork for a peaceful nuclear industry, but which the Western powers and Israel believe is a covert weapons program.
Mr. Araghchi, according to the ISNA account, said Iran should have the right to enrich uranium and would do so despite Security Council demands that it suspend enrichment until questions about the nature of its program are satisfactorily resolved. The enrichment, he said, would be subject to monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The minister did not specify the level of enrichment that Iran would maintain. In the past, Iran has repeatedly said it was willing to reconsider enriching up to 20 percent, if the nuclear powers would provide it with fuel of that potency to run a research reactor in Tehran. In exchange, Mr. Araghchi and other Iranian officials have said, Tehran expects that the sanctions that the United States and other nations have imposed because of concerns that Iran was moving to develop nuclear weapons should be lifted.
"Naturally, there will be a time frame for all these steps," Mr. Araghchi said, according to the ISNA report, reinforcing the point made last month by Mr. Rouhani that the two sides should seek to resolve the dispute over Iran's nuclear program within six months.
On Monday, a senior U.S. official had said 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 on the clock," said the U.S. official, who stressed the need to constrain Iran's program and "perhaps even take it back a notch." The U.S. official asked not to be named in accordance with State Department diplomatic protocol for briefing reporters.
Whether the new Iranian proposal meets that requirement, however, was unclear.
In Israel, the talks have prompted concern that in its eagerness to reach a deal, the West might relax its demands on Iran. On Monday, for example, a senior U.S. official in Geneva declined to say whether Iran should be allowed to produce uranium at home or be limited to acquiring nuclear fuel from other nations. But Israeli officials have consistently and adamantly argued against allowing Iran to enrich uranium at all.
First Published October 15, 2013 8:00 PM