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U.S. Looks at New Nuclear Offer to Iran

Components of Iran's Mersad air-defense system, shown in April 2010. Iran intends to test the weapon during large-scale military drills that began on Monday (AP Photo/Iranian Defense Ministry). Components of Iran's Mersad air-defense system, shown in April 2010. Iran intends to test the weapon during large-scale military drills that began on Monday (AP Photo/Iranian Defense Ministry).

The United States might attempt to unblock the long-running dispute over Iran's nuclear program by offering a rapid reduction in economic sanctions if the Middle Eastern state makes a similarly bold move to curb its contested atomic activities, the Associated Press reported on Friday.

The general outlines of the deal are familiar: Tehran would see relief from economic penalties imposed by Washington, European allies and others after suspending uranium enrichment, shipping abroad its current holding of higher-refined material and halting work on its Qum enrichment plant. Tehran so far has refused to accept any such deal from six world powers in several rounds of talks this year.

The United States and partner nations suspect Iran of seeking a nuclear-weapon capability; of particular concern is the enrichment of uranium to 20 percent, which is seen as a key step toward potential preparation of weapon-grade material enriched to roughly 90 percent. Iran says its nuclear sector has no weapons component and that the 20 percent-enriched material is needed for a medical research reactor in Tehran.

Senior envoys from China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States are due to convene on Nov. 21 in Brussels, Belgium, according to a source from a Western government. Another meeting between the P-5+1 states and Iran could occur at the beginning of 2013.

The meeting could be preceded by the most drastic round yet of U.S. sanctions against its longtime antagonist. Legislation from Senators Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) would seek to cut Iran almost entirely off from the global marketplace, AP reported.

Iran, though, at the upcoming round of talks could be offered an out under one of the plans being considered by the Obama administration. That deal would pledge reductions in sanctions on Iranian oil commerce and other sectors that are broader and instituted more rapidly than previous offers. In return, Iran would have to give up significantly more than it has previously suggested it could accept on uranium enrichment, according to officials. The specifics of such an offer are not yet known.

Russia would back bilateral talks between Tehran and Washington aimed at helping to resolve the nuclear impasse, the Financial Times reported on Sunday.

“We will not have a word against this. Of course, we would hope we would be informed on the content of these arrangements," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the newspaper. “Informal contacts (between the U.S. and Iran) are ongoing, but direct talks are possible. Such an arrangement will not create a problem for us, even if there is not a fully fledged (P-5+1). We are down to earth – we want something that will bring everyone out of this morass.”

A high-level British government source also cited the potential need for bilateral communication between Iran and the United States, which have not had direct diplomatic relations for decades.

The six-nation "process needs to continue but there’s a growing feeling that it will only end up giving the final blessing to a deal,” according to the source. “The critical point is that the U.S. may need to intensify direct dialogue with Iran to give them a wider range of security assurances they need.”

Washington would have to change its posture toward Iran if it wants direct discussions, the Xinhua News Agency quoted the head of the Iranian parliament's national security and foreign policy panel as saying on Sunday.

"Before the recent U.S. presidential election, the U.S. president had expressed his willingness to hold negotiations with Iran through different channels," said lawmaker Alaeddin Boroujerdi. "We believe we cannot negotiate with the U.S., which hatches plots, adopts budgets, and imposes sanctions against our national interests."

Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi took a harder line toward President Obama on Monday, the Associated Press reported.

‘‘We will break grasping hands of Obama and we will be successful in bypassing the sanctions,’’ the Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Rahimi as saying during an event in Tehran.

Meanwhile, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano on Sunday said that "activities" at Iran's Parchin armed forces installation are "ongoing," Agence France-Presse reported. He appeared to be addressing suspected efforts to eliminate evidence of potential nuclear weapon-related activities at the site.

"I am not in a position to discuss the details today," Amano said during a trip to Iraq.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog is seeking allowance from Iran to send inspectors to Parchin for the first time since 2005. Another meeting on setting the terms for the IAEA probe of Iranian atomic operations is scheduled for Dec. 13 in Tehran.

Iran during the summer placed large coverings over some structures at Parchin to ensure they could not be monitored by spy satellites.

"I am very much convinced that ... the IAEA has an essential role to play in solving this issue, Iran nuclear issue, through diplomatic means," Amano told reporters in Baghdad. "It is in the interests of Iran, and for the international community, and that is why I believe that there is some good reason that Iran will get cooperative for us. At the same time, the situation is very difficult and worrying. I do not want to speculate."

The agency is expected to release its next safeguards report on Iran on Friday.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Monday said his nation is not attempting to eradicate proof of suspicious activities at Parchin, AFP reported.

"Cleanup of such places is not possible,” he said to the news agency. “These words have no technical basis – if he has actually made such remarks,” Salehi added.

"We are hopeful that with the positive step Iran has taken in resolving this issue ... this [Dec. 13] meeting will identify a framework of cooperation in regards to the issue of a visit to Parchin," Reuters quoted Salehi as saying.

Iran on Sunday also said it fired on a U.S. unmanned aerial aircraft it believed to be spying on its petroleum operations, Reuters reported. The United States has denied Tehran's assertion that the drone entered Iranian airspace on Nov. 1 before being targeted by Iranian fighter aircraft.

"The drone was flying near Kharg Island and our understanding is that ... it was gathering economic information and intelligence on Kharg Island and oil tankers (in the area)," according to Revolutionary Guard Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh.

Kharg Island is a key site for shipping of Iranian unrefined petroleum.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran has some red lines that the Americans should understand and respect. If this is repeated, we will definitely react," Hajizadeh said in a Mehr News Agency report.

Iran on Monday initiated large-scale armed forces exercises that will encompass 8,000 military personnel, bombers and other warplanes, along with missiles and other military technology, Reuters reported. The nation has not previously conducted air exercises of this scope, according to Press TV.

"These drills convey a message of peace and security to regional countries," said Shahrokh Shahram, representing the Velayat 4 drills. "At the same time they send out a strong warning to those threatening Iran."

The exercises are to include trials of "Mersad" technology designed to use missiles to eliminate airborne threats at distances of up to 50 miles, AP reported.

The United States and particularly Israel have said that use of military force remains an option for dealing with Iranian nuclear sites.

Tel Aviv appears to be lining up with Washington's posture on Iran following Obama's electoral victory on Nov. 6, CNN reported last week. Aggressive comments from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the election had been seen as demonstrating his nation's willingness to take unilateral action and were viewed by some as advocating for Obama's Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.

“I think today we can safely say that we are very much on the same page and will continue to follow the lead of the U.S.," Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told the network.

“In a way I see an advantage by the continuity of the administration being very seasoned, knowing very well the Iran file and portfolio, to continue and make sure Iran won’t become nuclear," the diplomat added.

The White House on Friday said it would maintain for another year the national emergency issued in 1979 on Iran.

Our relations with Iran have not yet returned to normal, and the process of implementing the agreements with Iran, dated Jan.19, 1981, is still under way," Obama said in a prepared statement. "For these reasons, I have determined that it is necessary to continue the national emergency declared on Nov. 14, 1979, with respect to Iran, beyond Nov. 14, 2012."

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