Western countries are considering a step-by-step approach to solving their nuclear dispute with Iran ahead of a possible new round of multi-party talks in Vienna, Western diplomats said Thursday in the Austrian capital.
The plan, which has not been finalized, will likely expand on a previous Western offer to swap Iranian low-enriched uranium (LEU) for nuclear fuel, by asking Tehran to relinquish more uranium than previously proposed, they said.
An Iranian source familiar with the dispute told the German Press Agency dpa that his country would show flexibility regarding the amount of nuclear material.
The interviewed officials, who all wished to stay anonymous, were reacting to reports in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal about the new Western demand.
But there are additional elements to the Western position that is being mulled for the talks in mid-November between Iran and the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.
One way to break the current deadlock over Iran's nuclear programme would be to first tackle a proposal brokered in Vienna one year ago, under which 1,200 kilogrammes of LEU would be sent to Russia and France and processed into fuel for a research reactor in Tehran.
"The policy makers will say that the Tehran Research Reactor deal is achievable," one Western diplomat said.
But as Iran over the past year has made more and more LEU, which can be used either in reactors or nuclear weapons, Western countries will likely ask for more to be shipped out.
Diplomats said the next step could be to deal with one of Iran's production lines that puts out uranium at enriched to higher levels, theoretically making it easier to turn the material into weapons. The focus would be on stopping these activities and on what do with that uranium.
The final and most difficult phase of talks would tackle allegations of Iranian nuclear weapon development projects, which Tehran's leaders have denied.
The Iranian source said Iran would not suspend any nuclear activities and would accept a fuel swap only as part of the Tehran research reactor deal. But he also said that "the quantity of the LEU to be swapped could still be discussed and Iran would be flexible on that."
He suggested Iran could continue to enrich uranium, but ship out its stockpile every year to a third country and receive nuclear fuel in return.
Iran not only needs to fuel its research reactor, but also its new Bushehr power plant.
A Western diplomat noted that while there are some voices in Tehran that favour such a swap, hardliners have blocked such deals in the past.
It was still unclear whether the world powers would get a chance to present such proposals to their Iranian counterparts in Vienna, as Tehran had not backed up its publicly voiced support of talks with a formal confirmation through diplomatic channels.