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. UN nuclear chief seeks compromise on Iran
VIENNA, May 22 (AFP) May 22, 2006
UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei left for Washington on Monday where he is expected to urge US officials to leave room for a face-saving compromise over Iran's nuclear ambitions, diplomats said.

His trip, during which he is to meet US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, comes at a time of deadlock in the crisis over an Iranian civilian nuclear power program which the United States charges hides the secret development of atomic weapons.

Iran insists that its uranium enrichment is not up for negotiation, rejecting European efforts to secure a halt to this sensitive nuclear work that makes power reactor fuel but also atom bomb material.

One diplomat said that Elbaradei would be arriving in Washington "too late to influence anything" as the three main European Union powers Britain, France and Germany are to meet in London Wednesday with China, Russia and the United States to finalize their latest proposal.

"Besides, the Americans would not listen to him anyway," said a European diplomat, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.

"ElBaradei's positions are well known. He thinks the United States should get involved in talks with Iran and that the nuclear issue can only be settled in an overall security framework which gives nations guarantees so that they do not think they need atomic weapons," the diplomat said.

The United States is seen as key to convincing Iran that it would receive valid trade, technology and security benefits in return for guaranteeing it would not make nuclear weapons.

But Washington rejects both talking directly to Tehran and giving security guarantees to the Islamic Republic, especially with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calling for the destruction of Israel.

Diplomats said ElBaradei could play a role in terms of bringing a message from the Iranians as he met in Vienna only last week with chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani.

A diplomat in Vienna close to the Iranians told AFP that Tehran would be willing to strike a compromise as long as it could keep small-scale enrichment work, namely the enriching of uranium already being done by a 164-cascade, or array, of centrifuge machines it has had since the beginning of the year.

The Iranians are seeking to move towards industrial-level enrichment with more than 50,000 centrifuges. This could make enough enriched uranium for an atomic bomb within only weeks while a 164-centrifuge cascade is not believed to be a proliferation risk.

The US position, however, is that even one centrifuge spinning to enrich uranium is too much since it allows Iran to acquire the know-how for this technology, which is considered the "break-out capacity" for making nuclear weapons.

The diplomat said the Iranians are saying "we can't give up pilot enrichment work, plus we have already the knowledge (of how to enrich) and you can't take that away from us in any case."

There may be a face-saving solution, the diplomat said.

"The Iranians are willing to suspend for a short period but it can't be called suspension. It could be called 'restraint' or some other thing but not the 'S' word," the diplomat said.

The Iranian embassy in Vienna refused to comment.

The EU is calling on world powers to help Iran's nuclear and other industries if Tehran stops enriching uranium but wants Russia and China to join in sanctions, including an arms embargo, if Iran does not, according to a copy of a draft proposal seen by AFP.

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