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Talks Reportedly Underway on Nuclear Compromise
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Talks Reportedly Underway on Nuclear Compromise

Two unnamed diplomats, speaking with the Associated Press, claimed that the United States and Iran are discussing a compromise that would let Iran keep much of its uranium-enriching technology under a final nuclear deal but reduce the output of its centrifuge machines.

Such a compromise could break the 12-year deadlock on attempts to resolve the dispute over Tehran's nuclear program, which the US and some of its allies claim may be aimed at developing the capability to build nuclear weapons, but Tehran says is meant solely for peaceful applications, including electricity generation.  

Tehran has refused to meet US demands for deep cuts in the number of centrifuges it uses to enrich uranium as part of a comprehensive settlement to the nuclear standoff.  

In an article published on late Tuesday, the AP said the diplomats were familiar with the talks but spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss them. Ahead of a new round of negotiations this week, they said there was no guarantee that the proposal could be finessed into an agreement.

***Reconfiguration of Centrifuges

According to the diplomats, the proposal could leave running most of the nearly 10,000 centrifuges Iran is operating but reconfigure them to reduce the amount of enriched uranium they produce.

One of the diplomats said the deal could include other limitations to ensure that Tehran's program is kept in check.

For one, Iran would be allowed to store only a specific amount of uranium gas, which is fed into centrifuges for enrichment. The amount of gas would depend on the number of centrifuges it keeps.

Second, Iran would commit to shipping out most of the enriched uranium it produces. Iran has already rejected any deal that would envisage the transfer of enriched uranium to other countries.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said there is a range of discussions going on, mainly focused on Tehran's enrichment capacity.

"There are many pieces of the puzzle that need to be put together," Psaki told reporters. These include how many centrifuges Iran operates and how they operate, she said.

Iran offered last year to reduce the output of its centrifuges if it could keep most of them going. That was rejected back then by the US. But the negotiating parties are under increasing pressure ahead of two deadlines: to agree on main points by late March, and to reach a comprehensive deal by June 30.

The latest negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) have been extended twice, strengthening skepticism from critics in Iran and the US Congress.

Failure this time could result in a push for new sanctions by US legislators, a move that Iranian officials warn would scuttle any future diplomatic attempts to end the standoff.

The talks increasingly have become a dialogue between Washington and Tehran. Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany are also at the table but recognize that the US and Iran stand to gain — or lose — the most.

Iran now has withstood a decade of diplomatic and economic pressure aimed at reducing its program. Washington demanded a year ago that Tehran reduce the number of operating centrifuges from nearly 10,000 to fewer than 2,000.

By November, when the talks were extended, diplomats said the US and its partners were ready to accept as many as 4,500 but Iran had not budged.

The possible compromise was revealed ahead of the next negotiating round on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference that starts Friday.

Centrifuges are set up in series — called cascades — to spin uranium gas to increasingly higher concentrations of enriched uranium. The diplomats said one possibility being discussed is changing their configuration to reduce the amount of enriched uranium produced at the tail end of each cascade.

Iran could try to re-pipe the cascades into their original setup. But that could take months, and such efforts would be quickly reported by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, which would monitor the implementation of any deal.

The UN nuclear agency is now verifying Tehran's compliance with the terms of an interim nuclear agreement Iran reached with the six major powers in November 2013 in Geneva, under which it undertook to accept temporary constraints on its nuclear work in return for limited sanctions relief until a long-term deal is worked out. In its reports since the preliminary accord was signed, the IAEA has repeatedly confirmed that Iran is meeting its commitments under the Geneva deal.   

 

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