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Insiders: Iran Dials Back Uranium-Enrichment Demand

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton attends a multilateral nuclear meeting in Vienna on Thursday. Tehran has curbed the size of the uranium-enrichment program it wants under a potential nuclear accord with six major powers, Western diplomats said. European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton attends a multilateral nuclear meeting in Vienna on Thursday. Tehran has curbed the size of the uranium-enrichment program it wants under a potential nuclear accord with six major powers, Western diplomats said. (Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)

Western envoys said Iran has reduced the uranium-enrichment capacity it is demanding in a possible deal on its nuclear activities, Reuters reports.

The United States and European countries are fearful that Iran could tap its uranium-enrichment centrifuges to rapidly produce fuel for nuclear arms, but Tehran has long insisted it only wants lower-purity material for peaceful use. The Middle Eastern government launched discussions with six countries on Thursday in a bid to secure a deal by July 20, when a six-month nuclear accord between the sides is scheduled to expire.

One Western diplomatic insider said "Iran has reduced the number of centrifuges it wants but the number is still unacceptably high."

The diplomats described the development on Thursday, one day after a high-level Iranian source said Tehran wanted a right to activate 50,000 centrifuges under a long-term deal.

Iran is now running roughly 10,000 out of more than 19,000 machines it has installed to date. Western governments want Tehran to retain no more than a few thousand centrifuges under a potential agreement.

One former U.S. official suggested that a renewal of the half-year interim accord is "inevitable," but added that "an extension is more advantageous to the U.S. than Iran," the Wall Street Journal reported.

"The constraints on Iran's nuclear program would continue, the program would remain frozen," said Robert Einhorn, who last year stepped down as State Department special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control. "From Iran's perspective, it’s much more difficult."

Iranian leaders "have made the mistake of publicly asserting a need to have a large enrichment capacity," Einhorn added.

"In reality, they don’t have that need," he said. "They can have a very advanced and capable civil nuclear program without that capability and in the future they can expand it but for now, it has to be modest. And that’s going to be the hard issue."

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