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Iran Offers Talks, But Not On Its Nuclear Program

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov: "My impression is there is something there to use."
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- An Iranian proposal made public offers wide-ranging talks with the West but is silent about its nuclear program, a mixed message that may undercut any push for further UN sanctions on Iran for now.

Separately, an Iranian official ruled out any talks about Iran's uranium enrichment program, which the West suspects may be a cover for developing nuclear weapons but which Iran says is solely intended to produce electrical power.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Iranian proposal provided something to work with, and he ruled out the possibility of sanctions on Iran's lifeblood oil sector.

Western powers are becoming frustrated by what they have called Tehran's "persistent defiance and point-blank refusal" to suspend uranium enrichment and its avoidance of negotiations as demanded by UN Security Council resolutions since 2006.

Instead of directly addressing those demands, Iran handed world powers on September 9 a five-page proposal -- first made public by a U.S. website -- that spoke generally of talks on political, security, international, and economic issues.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran voices its readiness to embark on comprehensive, all-encompassing and constructive negotiations aiming at acquiring a clear framework for cooperative relationships," said the proposal released by ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism.

The document's authenticity was confirmed by a diplomat briefed on the proposal.

The United States said the proposal was "not really responsive to our greatest concern, which is obviously Iran's nuclear program."

'Root Causes Of Terrorism'

Among the issues Iran said it was willing to discuss was "putting into action real and fundamental programs toward complete disarmament and preventing development and proliferation of nuclear, chemical and microbial weapons."

The proposal also held out the possibility of talks on "the root causes of terrorism," energy security, preventing another global financial crisis, solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and reforming the UN Security Council.

"Tehran is prepared to have fair and substantive talks about various problems, including the guarantee of access by all countries to nuclear energy and preventing the proliferation of nuclear arms," Iranian state television quoted Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's envoy to the UN nuclear watchdog, as saying.

"But these talks do not include Tehran's nuclear program and legal activities in this connection."

The United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany are evaluating Iran's plan and their senior diplomats are to hold a conference call to discuss it on September 11.

U.S. President Barack Obama has suggested Iran may face much harsher international sanctions, possibly targeting its imports of gasoline, if it does not accept good-faith negotiations by the end of September.

But Russia, which has veto power in the UN Security Council, ruled out oil sanctions against the Islamic republic.

"Based on a brief review of the Iranian papers my impression is there is something there to use," Lavrov told reporters in Moscow. "The most important thing is Iran is ready for a comprehensive discussion of the situation, what positive role it can play in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the region," he said.

A European diplomat, however, was skeptical.

"It's hard to understand what the Russians see in the Iranian paper," said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "The media shouldn't be calling it a proposal. It's as vague as all the previous so-called proposals."

Another official familiar with the deliberations of the six major powers said Iran's proposals did not appear to pass "the smell test" but were being analyzed to determine whether they represented an opening for negotiations.

Iran, the world's fifth-biggest crude producer, is seen as vulnerable to oil sanctions because it imports 40 percent of its gasoline to supply the cheap fuel that Iranians see as their birthright.

Lavrov said world powers had agreed to use sanctions only as a way to get Iran to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency in its monitoring of Iran's nuclear work.

"Some of the sanctions under discussion, including oil and oil products, are not a mechanism to force Iran to cooperate -- they are a step to a full-blown blockade and I do not think they would be supported at the UN Security Council," he said.

The UN Security Council has attempted to persuade Iran to suspend the enrichment of uranium, which can be used in either power plants, or if purified further, in a nuclear warhead.