The Obama administration and its European allies are preparing proposals that would shift strategy toward Iran by dropping a long-standing American insistence that Tehran rapidly shut down nuclear facilities during the early phases of negotiations over its atomic program, according to officials involved in the discussions.
The proposals, exchanged in confidential strategy sessions with European allies, would press Tehran to open up its nuclear program gradually to wide-ranging inspection. But the proposals would also allow Iran to continue enriching uranium for some period during the talks, a sharp break in the approach taken by the Bush administration, which had demanded that Iran halt its enrichment activities.
The proposals under consideration would go somewhat beyond President Barack Obama’s promise, during the presidential campaign, to open negotiations with Iran “without preconditions.” Officials involved in the discussion said they were being fashioned to draw Iran into nuclear talks that it had so far shunned.
A review of Iran policy that Obama ordered after taking office is still under way, and aides say it is not clear how long he would be willing to allow Iran to continue its fuel production, and at what pace. But European officials said that in talks with Obama and his aides during his trip to Europe, there was agreement that Iran would not accept the kind of immediate shutdown of its facilities that the Bush administration had demanded.
“We have all agreed that is simply not going to work — experience tells us the Iranians are not going to buy it,” said a senior European official involved in the strategy sessions with the Obama administration. “So we are going to start with some interim steps, to build a little trust.”
Administration officials declined to discuss details of their confidential deliberations, but said that any new American policy would ultimately require Iran to cease enrichment, as demanded by several U.N. Security Council resolutions.