Nuclear weapons proposal tougher on Iran

THE US and its European allies are preparing a new, tougher deal over Iran’s nuclear program in a first test of the weight of broader economic sanctions.

The offer would have Iran ship out more than 1995kg of low-enriched uranium, two-thirds more than the amount rejected by Tehran under a tentative deal struck in Vienna a year ago, senior officials told The New York Times yesterday.

The increase reflects Iran’s growing production of uranium over the past year and US concerns that Iran has less than one nuclear bomb’s worth of uranium on hand, according to the officials.

“This will be a first sounding about whether the Iranians still think they can tough it out or are ready to negotiate,” said a senior US official.

“We have to convince them that life will get worse, not better, if they don’t begin to move.”

Another senior US official said the US and its European partners were “very close to having an agreement” to present to Iran.

But the Islamic republic had yet to respond to a request by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents world powers in the nuclear dialogue with Iran, which will meet in Vienna next month.

Many US officials suspect the new initiative under development is likely to fail, but would fulfil US President Barack Obama’s promise to keep negotiating even while the pressure of sanctions increases.

Iran has signalled it is ready to discuss a possible exchange of atomic fuel at the upcoming talks for a Tehran-based research reactor after consultations broke down last year between the Islamic republic and the Vienna group comprising France, Russia, the US and the UN atomic watchdog.

Under an initial proposal brokered by the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran would send more than 1200kg of its low-enriched uranium to Russia and France for conversion into the fuel rods required for the Tehran reactor.

In May, Iran responded with a counter-proposal brokered by Turkey and Brazil, which was cold-shouldered by the West before the UN Security Council slapped a fresh round of sanctions on Tehran less than a month later. Several countries imposed further unilateral sanctions.

Meanwhile, US diplomats and human rights groups are outraged that Iran is set to become a member of the board of the new UN agency to promote equality for women.

Rights groups are angry that Iran has convicted a woman of adultery and sentenced her to death by stoning.

Some rights groups are also upset that Saudi Arabia, where women aren’t allowed to drive and are barred from many facilities used by men, is also expected to join the board of UN Women.

Thirty-five members are to be chosen by regional groups. Asia has put forward an uncontested 10-nation slate that includes Iran, UN diplomats said.

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