The five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany are giving Iran weeks to respond to the "carrot," a diplomatic initiative agreed to on Thursday by the US, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany, diplomats said.
And if they reject the terms and continue their nuclear program, the major powers agreed to take "measures with teeth," the diplomat added. Officials declined to specify measures or label them sanctions. But they are thought to include a range of trade, security and technology incentives as well as the threat of unspecified penalties.
"We consider it a step forward in our quest to deny Iran a nuclear weapons capability," said US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns. "We are very satisfied."
Possible arms embargo
A draft proposal of the text seen by AFP includes helping Iran build light water reactors for its civilian nuclear energy program.
According to this text, possible sanctions could include an arms embargo against Iran -- something Russia, a key arms supplier to Iran, and China, a major consumer of Iranian oil, resist -- but that sanctions would be targeted rather than a full economic or other boycott.
The agreement by six of the world's most powerful nations caps months of diplomacy during which the United States has tried to meet Russian and Chinese demands to avoid escalating the showdown over Iran's nuclear program.
After three years of a UN investigation of Iran's program, a senior US State Department official said Tehran would be presented with the proposals within a few days and would have only "weeks" to answer.
Calling the proposals "far-reaching," British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett urged Tehran to respond positively to the benefits on offer in order to allay fears that it is seeking nuclear weapons and to avoid facing UN Security Council punishment which could include sanctions.
"The proposals offer Iran a chance to reach a negotiated agreement," she said.
Holding to the line
One diplomat said that the powers held to the line of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Iran must suspend all uranium enrichment activities as a condition for talks to resume. Enrichment makes nuclear reactor fuel but can also be used for atom bomb material.
Rice had Wednesday set this as a condition for Washington to join European Union negotiators Britain, France and Germany in talks with Iran. Openness to such talks with Iran is a major policy switch by the United States, 26 years after it broke off diplomatic relations with Tehran when Islamic militants took over the country.
Washington claims Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons under the cover of what Tehran says is a peaceful effort to generate electricity.
US officials stressed the package offered had bite, despite some diplomats saying the disincentive side had been watered down. A US State Department official said: "What we have is a commitment from our partners that if Iran (doesn't take the hand extended), the Security Council will take the measures necessary and these measures will have teeth."
Diplomats said this was designed to avoid offending Iran and to draw it into negotiations, in a clear effort at more savvy public diplomacy than the confrontational mode of the past.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov early Friday voiced Moscow's hope that Iran would respond to the deal.
"Together at the negotiating table we will be able to work out a way that would allow us to ensure Iran's legitimate right to peaceful nuclear energy and yet maintain the non-proliferation regime," was quoted by the ITAR-TASS news agency as telling Russian reporters here.