by Michael Adler
VIENNA - The European Union is considering making concessions to Iran ahead of a nuclear meeting next week in order to get it to abandon uranium enrichment but the hardline United States is unhappy with such a compromise, a Western diplomat told AFP Friday.
Iran and the EU are to resume last-chance nuclear talks in Paris next week with time running out for Iran to accept the European offer for it to suspend uranium enrichment in order to avoid possible UN Security Council sanctions, diplomats said in Vienna.
Iran and the European Union's three key states Britain, France and Germany have already met twice this month in Vienna ahead of a meeting of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on November 25 that will decide on the Iranian nuclear program, which the United States claims is aimed at secretly developing atomic weapons.
At a meeting that failed to reach an agreement, Iran responded last Wednesday to an EU proposal that would allow Tehran to escape potential UN sanctions and as a reward receive nuclear technology by indefinitely suspending uranium enrichment and all related activities.
Enrichment is the process that makes fuel for civilian reactors but which can also be the explosive core of atomic bombs.
The Western diplomat said the European trio was meeting this Friday in Paris to prepare the session with Iran that will be next Friday and were considering giving Iran incentives immediately rather than have Tehran wait, and during this time suspend uranium enrichment, while a long-term agreement is hammered out.
The Europeans "obviously don't want this process to die and are getting together a draft agreement on uranium suspension," the diplomat said.
The diplomat said that in order "to sweeten the deal, the Europeans are thinking about conceding a few minor points to Iran."
These would be guaranteeing Iran's right to peaceful nuclear technology, promising to support Iran in having international access to nuclear fuel and giving assurances immediately on a European offer to help Iran get a light-water research reactor designed not to promote proliferation of nuclear weapons, if Iran gives up plans to build a heavy-water reactor that could easily produce weapons-grade plutonium.
The Europeans would also be ready to have IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei report on Iran "as appropriate" to the agency's board of governors, instead of reporting on Iran as a special issue as he currently does at every meeting.
The United States, which wants Iran to immediately halt all uranium enrichment activities or be taken to the Security Council for possible sanctions, "has already told the EU informally that it thinks these concessions are an unhelpful step," the diplomat said.
But he said Washington was continuing "to take a public posture of saying very little."
Another diplomat said that Wednesday the Iranians had clearly told the European countries that they want something in return, and quickly, for their cooperation.
The diplomat said the Iranians had said: "How can we make it clear to our political leaders and our public that we are committing ourselves without getting anything in return?"
Diplomats said Iran must decide by mid-November about suspending uranium enrichment if it is to avoid having the IAEA, the UN's nuclear watchdog, take it to the Security Council.
ElBaradei has said it would take his agency 10 days to verify suspension, a Western diplomat said.
"November 15 is a kind of logistical deadline for the IAEA," ahead of the November 25 meeting, the diplomat said.
In Tehran, influential former president Hashemi Rafsanjani said Iran would continue talks with Europe over its nuclear activities but reject any threats aimed at depriving the country of peaceful nuclear technology.
Iran has since October 2003 voluntarily suspended the actual enrichment of uranium as a confidence-building step but has refused to agree to an indefinite suspension, saying this would violate its right to enrichment under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
It also says that some parts of the fuel cycle, such as making the feed gas and the centrifuges that carry out the enrichment, should not be covered by the suspension.
The European trio demand a full and indefinite suspension of nuclear fuel cycle activities.
Analysts and diplomats have said Iran was seeking to delay the matter until after US presidential elections Tuesday, and then give in just enough to avoid having the IAEA send Iran's dossier to the Security Council.