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Iran close to deal that would halt its nuclear program: report

AFP | September 26 2006

Iran is close to a secret deal that would have it suspend its uranium enrichment program for 90 days, in order to hold additional talks with several European nations, The Washington Times reported Tuesday.

The suspension of its enrichment program would be kept secret while the additional negotiations take place, unidentified US officials told the daily.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani are expected to meet this week.

The talks are aimed at getting Iran to accept a package of economic and diplomatic incentives -- including the first direct diplomatic contacts with the United States in 27 years -- in exchange for suspending a uranium enrichment program that the West fears is aimed at producing nuclear arms.

The negotiations were given a last chance to succeed after Washington, under pressure from Europe and China, backed down on its demand for immediate sanctions against Iran for failing to meet an August 31 UN deadline for freezing the enrichment activities.

US officials opposed to the secret deal, said that allowing Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities for 90 days would be giving in to Tehran in its continued defiance of the United Nations, the conservative Washington Times reported.

Keeping the agreement secret, they added, would provide Iran with a face-saving measure, but would be difficult since any halt in the nuclear program would have to be verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

But US State Department officials supporting the deal see it as a step toward achieving a complete halt to Iran's enrichment activities.

US President George W. Bush is reportedly not happy with the secrecy demand, officials said.

Asked to comment on the possible agreement, State Department spokesman Tom Casey sent the newspaper an e-mail saying that Iran faces clear UN Security Council conditions.

"Iran needs to suspend its uranium enrichment activities, and it needs to do so in a verifiable way. If it does, we can start negotiations. If it doesn't, we move to sanctions. It is a clear and unambiguous standard," the spokesman said.

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