Are France, Britain and Germany considering a compromise that would allow Iran to continue some of its nuclear activities while angering the US? EU diplomats say they have not ruled it out.
Are the EU and Iran set to strike a deal against the wishes of the US?
France, Britain and Germany are mulling over a compromise that would allow Iran to keep nuclear technology that can be used to make bombs, diplomats told Reuters Wednesday.
"The Iranians have been offering this for a long time," a diplomat with access to the negotiations told the news agency. "What's new is that the EU is thinking about it."
But US officials dismissed any such move Wednesday, saying that a compromise of this kind is not on the table. The US flatly rejected Tehran's offer to conduct limited uranium enrichment activities and challenged the country to prove it was serious in talks on its suspected nuclear weapons program.
"We and the EU-3 remain united in the view that only a full cessation and dismantling of Iran's sensitive nuclear fuel cycle pursuits can provide the kind of confidence we're looking for that Iran has abandoned its nuclear weapons program," Deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told AFP.
He refused to discuss whether the European-led talks were making progress in reining in Iran's nuclear ambitions. But the tone of his remarks was far from upbeat.
"We're trying to achieve something," Ereli said. "Have we achieved it today? No, we haven't. And don't ask me to assess the likelihood of achieving it tomorrow because I can't."
He said that if the Iranians decide not to cooperate, "the good news is that we, the Europeans and the international community are more on the same page than we've ever been."
We won't give up
Britain, France and Germany are spearheading an effort to persuade Iran to renounce suspected efforts to develop a nuclear bomb in return for trade, technology and security benefits. They have previously taken the stance that only a complete dismantling of Iran's nuclear program would be acceptable.
The United States joined the European effort to try to wean Iran off its nuclear hopes after earlier pushing to take the matter before the United Nations in a bid to apply pressure through possible sanctions. Washington has also not ruled out using force.
A senior State Department official, who asked not to be named, said the administration was determined to give the Europeans all the time they thought they needed to play out the negotiations with Iran.
"I would say these talks have not yet produced the end of their program, but the Europeans are continuing to engage and we'll let them decide when they think they're no longer useful," he said.
Nuclear activities peaceful, Tehran says
Tehran has said it will not give up its technology and that its nuclear activities are peaceful.
And on Wednesday, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami took reporters on an unprecedented tour of the Islamic republic's closely guarded nuclear sites and vowed never to abandon its drive to enrich uranium.
Compromise is not on the table, US says
"Come clean," US warns
"Our response," Ereli said, "is that if Iran were really serious about demonstrating transparency in its nuclear program, it should answer all of the International Atomic Energy Agency's outstanding questions….and stop denying IAEA full and unrestricted access to suspicious sites. The point here is that if there is a commitment to transparency, there are real, effective, meaningful ways to demonstrate that commitment, beyond a staged media event like is being reported."
He called on Iran allow key nuclear officials to be interviewed by the IAEA and to come clean about its centrifuge program to enrich uranium as well as past efforts to extract plutonium as potential nuclear fuel.
He said the Iranians had a choice: "Either make decisions that are characteristic of a responsible member of the international community, or find yourself further isolated and further ostracized."
The EU and Iran are tentatively scheduled for more talks in April in Geneva and London.