WASHINGTON – The United States and its European allies plan to demand the immediate closing by Iran and ultimate dismantling of a recently completed underground nuclear facility near the city of Qum, The New York Times reported late Saturday.
Citing unnamed US and European diplomats, the newspaper said the allies will also call at the upcoming negotiations for a halt in the production of uranium fuel that is considered just a few steps from bomb grade, and the shipment of existing stockpiles of that fuel out of the country.
Iran last held talks with the six powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – in January 2011 with no results.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had said the new talks would open April 13 in Istanbul. But Iran later said that Turkey was not an acceptable host after the NATO member cut oil imports from Tehran in response to US pressure.
The new demands will be the opening move in what President Barack Obama has called Iran’s “last chance” to resolve its nuclear confrontation with the United Nations and the West diplomatically, the report said.
The hard-line approach would require the country’s military leadership to give up the Fordo enrichment plant outside Qum, and with it a huge investment in the one facility that is most hardened against air-strikes, the paper pointed out.
While it is unclear whether the allies would accept anything less than closing and disassembling Fordo, government and outside experts say the terms may be especially difficult for Iran’s leaders to accept when they need to appear strong in the face of political infighting, The Times noted.
However, Obama and his allies believe that crushing sanctions and the threat of Israeli military action will bolster the arguments of those Iranians who say a negotiated settlement is far preferable to isolation and sanctions, the paper said.
The UN Security Council has imposed four sets of sanctions on Iran because of suspicions over its nuclear program, which the West and Israel believe includes a drive to develop atomic weapons capability.
Other experts fear the tough conditions being set could instead swing the debate in favor of Iran’s hard-liners, according to The Times.
“We have no idea how the Iranians will react,” the paper quoted one senior administration official as saying. “We probably won’t know after the first meeting.”