Envoys on Wednesday said Iranian negotiators this week voiced a tentative openness to dialing back their nation's disputed uranium refinement activities in return for curbs on international financial penalties, Reuters reported.
Still, Western government insiders said it was unclear if the Persian Gulf power would take steps necessary to dispel fears that it is pursuing a nuclear-bomb capability. Few specifics have surfaced publicly on an atomic compromise proposal put forward by Tehran at a two-day multilateral meeting completed in Geneva on Wednesday.
One Western envoy said new plans are in place for a follow-up Nov. 7-8 meeting between Iranian diplomats and counterparts from the five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany -- the so-called "P-5+1."
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Facebook that before the next round of talks in November the six other negotiating powers will have "a chance to acquire the necessary readiness regarding the details of Iran’s plans and the steps that they must take," the New York Times reported.
In a joint statement, Zarif and Ashton said Iran's proposal "is being carefully considered by the [P-5+1] as an important contribution."
Abbas Araqchi, one of Zarif's deputies, said Tehran proposed initially accepting certain uranium-enrichment restrictions within half a year in exchange for partial curbs on punitive economic measures, the London Guardian reported on Wednesday. Washington and its allies doubt Tehran's longtime assertion that it only wants to enrich uranium to relatively low levels for use in power plants and research reactors.
A second phase would entail a number of undisclosed confidence-building measures. In a final step, Iran would accept more aggressive international auditing to help ensure it is not diverting nuclear material for military activities, while other countries would lift remaining penalties and allow Iranian uranium enrichment to continue within established boundaries.
Timing for various steps remains a potential snag for negotiators, according to Reuters. Western government officials have said economic penalties should remain in place until Tehran stops producing 20 percent-enriched uranium, which can quickly be converted to bomb fuel.
British Foreign Minister William Hague said: "We are not today in a position to make any changes in those sanctions. Sanctions must continue. Sanctions are important part of bringing Iran to the negotiating table."
However, Obama administration insiders said Washington is willing to unfreeze certain Iranian foreign currency reserves in return for concrete steps by Tehran, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.
At the U.S. Defense Department, officials on Monday said they want to sell Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates $10.8 billion in air-fired cruise missiles and other weapons, Bloomberg reported. Arms in the proposed packages are capable of hitting air defenses and radar sites in Iran and elsewhere, the news agency said.