Britain, France and Germany are preparing to offer Iran a package that includes major security assurances, economic cooperation and a guaranteed fuel supply. In exchange, Tehran would permanently forgo production of fissile material that could be used for nuclear weapons, according to U.S. and foreign diplomats.
Details of the offer, which has been in the works since May and is near completion, have won cautious support from the Bush administration, U.S. diplomats said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The European trio wants to present the proposals late next week after Iran's new president takes office. But the Iranians have been pushing to receive the offer today and have threatened to resume some nuclear work if it is delayed or falls short of expectations.
Tehran made similar threats in May but backed down after the Europeans threatened to abandon the negotiations. The Europeans have continuously held out the prospect of a deal as long as Iran maintained a suspension of all work related to the production of highly enriched uranium, a key ingredient in a nuclear weapon. If Iran broke the suspension, the deal would be off and the matter could move to the U.N. Security Council, which has the authority to impose economic sanctions.
Iran says its nuclear program, built in secret over 18 years, is designed to produce nuclear energy, not bombs. But the clandestine nature of the effort created deep suspicions in Washington and elsewhere about Iran's intentions.
With talks at a sensitive stage, diplomats described the details only on the condition of anonymity.
They said efforts are underway to assure Iran and others that the deal would be forthcoming. The dispute over timing appears to have resulted from crossed communication. The Europeans expected Iranian president-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would want to take office and get his team in place before tackling the new package. He is to be sworn in later this week. But Iran's outgoing leadership may want to be remembered for receiving the deal.
Iran's state-run news service quoted Hassan Rowhani, the country's top nuclear negotiator, as saying the deal was expected to include "guarantees about Iran's integrity, independence [and] national sovereignty" as part of a nonaggression pact. Rowhani reportedly shared the details in a letter to outgoing President Mohammad Khatami, the news service reported, according to the Associated Press in Tehran.
Diplomats close to the talks said the European offer would recognize Iran's right to a civilian nuclear energy program that is "safe, economically viable and proliferation proof."
The package also includes guaranteed and sustainable access to fuel, so that Iran would not need to enrich its own uranium, and lays out a strategy for economic relations in energy, trade and investment.
The Europeans will suggest a first round of negotiations on the offer Aug. 31 in Europe, followed by a meeting in New York when world leaders gather for a September summit at the United Nations.