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Ex-U.S. Officials Seek Broader Iran Nuclear Deal

A number of former high-level U.S. officials are pressing the Obama administration to pursue a broader nuclear agreement with Iran under the nation's incoming president, al-Monitor reported on Thursday.

Washington and its allies have led a years-long push to isolate Iran over its atomic program, which they insist over Tehran's objections to be serving as cover for development of a bomb capability. No solution to the dispute has emerged from years of negotiations between Iranian diplomats and counterparts from the five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany.

Iranian President-elect Hassan Rouhani, who is scheduled to take office on Aug. 3, led talks on the nuclear standoff from 2003 to 2005. His initial post-election press comments did not exclude the potential for halting Iran's most weapon-sensitive uranium enrichment. However, he asserted that Iran would not again end production of lower-purity uranium for power reactors, as it had during his tenure heading the country's nuclear negotiating team.

Iran's atomic energy chief on Friday said the nation would continue manufacturing atomic fuel "in line with [its] declared goals."

"The enrichment linked to fuel production will also not change," Fereidoun Abbasi added in comments reported by Reuters.

One insider said Obama officials are tossing around the possibility of making a more sweeping atomic offer to Iran. Still, they would not go public on the matter unless consensus appeared imminent, according to the source.

Iran has pushed since last year for international acknowledgement of its right to refine lower-purity uranium, and for more significant curbs on economic punitive measures than those on offer. Some observers have suggested those demands could be inducements for the United States to pursue a broader compromise.

“Going ‘big for big’ now potentially gives Rouhani something substantial to use to claim he got the P-5+1 to recognize Iran’s ‘rights,’ something his predecessors didn’t get, and thus perhaps help him build an elite consensus around a nuclear deal,” said Colin Kahl, a former deputy assistant Defense secretary for the Middle East.

Kahl suggested world powers have "perhaps 12 to 18 months" before Iran's internationally monitored sites can rapidly generate enough fuel for a nuclear weapon, making Tehran "a de facto nuclear-armed power whether they build a bomb or not."

White House National Security Staff spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said the six countries negotiating with Iran are conferring on "next steps." Iran has said it would only consider joining new talks after Rouhani's term begins, she added.

In other news, former U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Gen. James Cartwright is the target of a federal probe for allegedly speaking to reporters about a major electronic offensive operation against Iran's atomic activities, NBC News reported on Thursday. While still in uniform, Cartwright headed the effort to attack Iran's uranium enrichment-related computer systems using the Stuxnet worm, the New York Times reported last year.

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