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World News

Iran's pitch to big powers sidesteps atomic concerns

VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran’s proposal for negotiations with world powers urges cooperation to stabilise the Middle East but makes clear Tehran would not give up nuclear activity as they demand, according to the text obtained by Reuters.

Diplomats who saw the proposal said it ignored global concerns about Iran’s uranium enrichment programme, a possible pathway to atom bombs, and so was likely to be of little use in defusing the Islamic Republic’s standoff with major powers.

Iran’s ambassador to the European Union, who handed the proposal running just over two pages to EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana on Tuesday, said in Brussels on Wednesday that it had taken “a wider approach, beyond the nuclear issue”.

Entitled “The Islamic Republic of Iran’s Proposed Package for Constructive Negotiations”, the proposal emerged as six big powers were finalising revisions to a batch of incentives to Iran not to pursue enrichment.

They plan to present the updated package to Iran shortly. But Iran has already been dismissive since the major powers kept a precondition that Tehran halt all enrichment-related activity.

Iran’s package called for “establishing enrichment and nuclear fuel production consortiums in different parts of the world, including in Iran” and better access to peaceful nuclear technology for “all states”, a reference to developing nations.

Iran has proposed an enrichment consortium on its soil before, which theoretically would minimise chances of diverting enrichment from electricity generation -- Iran’s stated civilian nuclear goal -- into bombmaking.

But Western powers have ruled this out as it could still allow Iran, which has raised suspicions with a record of nuclear secrecy and restricting U.N. inspections, to master the capability to assemble a nuclear warhead.

The proposal rejected “injustice and lawless behaviour towards the rights of nations”, alluding to modest U.N. sanctions slapped on Iran over its refusal to halt enrichment.

FAR-FLUNG PROPOSAL

Iran billed its plan as an all-encompassing approach to tackling “regional and global problems and challenges”.

Its proposals dwelled on cooperation in fighting “common security threats”, citing terrorism, militarism, narcotics and organised crime; alleviating poverty and inequality; fostering trade and investment; and sharing of energy for development.

It said steps should focus on the Middle East, where there should be “a sustainable, democratic and fair” solution for the Palestinians -- in conflict with Israel for 60 years -- and in the Balkans, Africa and Latin America.

Iran has called repeatedly for Israel’s destruction and backs Islamic militants hostile to the Jewish state.

Tehran said it was ready to launch “serious and targeted” negotiations” based on its ideas. Talks could be evaluated after a maximum of six months to decide whether they should go on.

In a May 13 cover letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran’s approach was “a strategic one” with “important initiatives” spanning political, security, economic and nuclear fields.

He urged those concerned to “deal with it constructively”.

In an allusion to sanctions, Mottaki warned big powers against resorting further “to two-track approaches that combine intimidation and negotiation (which) not only will not help resolve issues but indeed further complicate the situation”.

Iran’s EU envoy, Aliasghar Khaji, said it was willing to consider any new ideas from the five permanent members of the Security Council -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France -- plus Germany.

But a senior Western diplomat, echoing others, said Iran’s proposal covered “familiar ground...It doesn’t represent a change in the Iranian position...There’s no shift on substance.”

He meant no budging of Iran’s refusal to stop enrichment.

A cover letter from one Western state that forwarded Iran’s package to other nations referred to it in quotation marks, underlining that it should not be taken too seriously.

The senior Western diplomat spoke of a political move by Tehran to “get (its) ideas on the table” in hopes of winning a hearing alongside the big powers’ tweaked incentives package.

But he said there was increasing concern among U.N. nuclear inspectors about tests and other research in Iran that appeared to have been linked to a covert nuclear weapons programme.

Additional reporting by Mark John in Brussels and Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations; Editing by Stephen Weeks

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