Iran will consider a European Union proposal under which the Islamic republic would receive civilian nuclear technology and fuel if it abandons its uranium enrichment program, an Iranian official told reporters Thursday.
"It is just at the initial stage. The matter has to be considered on both sides," said Sirus Naseri, a member of the Iranian delegation that heard the proposal at a meeting here with senior French, British and German officials.
European governments depicted the offer as a last chance for Iran to avoid escalation of a months-long dispute over its nuclear program. If Iran rejects the offer, diplomats said, most European governments will back U.S. demands that the International Atomic Energy Agency report Iran to the U.N. Security Council for possible economic sanctions. That action could come at a meeting of the IAEA in November.
Asked if Iran was afraid of being reported to the Security Council, Naseri said, "We are not threatening each other."
Diplomats said the three E.U. countries had the reluctant blessing of the United States in making the offer to Iran, despite U.S. officials' belief that Iran was using talks with the Europeans to buy time to work toward building nuclear bombs.
"At this point Iranian compliance doesn't seem likely . . . based on Iran's history and their current expressions and the things that they're saying and doing right now," the State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, said on Wednesday.
Iran has said its nuclear program is only for electric power generation and that it will never give up uranium enrichment, a process that can make fuel for nuclear reactors or material for bombs.
The IAEA, the U.N. atomic monitoring body, has been investigating Iran's nuclear program for more than two years. It has uncovered many hidden activities that could be related to a weapons program but no positive proof that one exists.
President Mohammad Khatami said on Wednesday that if Iran was guaranteed the right to develop peaceful nuclear technology, it would "present everything necessary to prove that Iran will not produce an atomic bomb. But we will not give up our rights."
Former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani reinforced the message on Thursday as the talks were beginning, saying: "We have announced our stance repeatedly. It is irreversible."
Some diplomats said Iranian officials had never clearly explained why their oil-rich state needs nuclear energy or why they are so intent on producing nuclear fuel, years before any Iranian atomic power facilities would need such fuel.
Khatami said on Wednesday, "We cannot rely on other countries to supply our nuclear fuel, as they can stop it any time due to political pressures."
A Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said acceptance of the E.U. offer could protect Iran from Security Council action. "If Iran accepts it, it could strengthen their hand in November" at the IAEA meeting, he said.
The Europeans are offering to support construction of light-water reactor systems, which are less suited to developing fissile material for nuclear weapons, if Iran will scrap plans to build a heavy-water research reactor. Other incentives in the European offer include resumption of talks on a trade pact and guarantees of Russian fuel.