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Iran's offer on nuclear deal: genuine or diplomatic wedge?

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says Iran’s enriched uranium could be processed outside the country, a deal Iran once rejected. The US and other countries are wary of the offer as they consider new sanctions.

By Staff writer / February 3, 2010

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, second right, views part of a new domestically-built satellite booster rocket in Tehran Wednesday. Iran's ambitious space program worries Western powers because they fear the same technology used to launch satellites could also deliver warheads.

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Washington

Just as a small head of steam was building behind a Western initiative for a new round of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, Iran has declared its openness to accepting an enriched-uranium deal it had already rejected.

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US, French, and German officials responded with suspicion to Iran’s new interest in a proposal to move its stockpile of enriched uranium outside the country for further processing. The plan, originally proposed in October by the United Nation's atomic energy watchdog agency, was formally rejected by Iran last month.

But a declaration by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Tuesday that Iran is ready to accept some export scheme for its uranium was received favorably by Russia, and it prompted Chinese officials to call for further negotiations with Tehran.

Trying to avoid sanctions

Iran’s new interest in a uranium deal left some Iran experts speculating that Tehran, seeing movement by the international community toward a new set of sanctions focused on the growing economic assets of the country’s Revolutionary Guards, is acting to head off any international consensus.

“This may be an effort to drive a wedge” in the UN Security Council, which would have to approve what would be a fourth set of international sanctions against Iran, says Daniel Brumberg, acting director of the Muslim World Initiative at the US Institute of Peace in Washington. “The Iranian regime is always playing for time, so doing that by disrupting any developing [international] consensus would be par for the course for them.”

But Mr. Brumberg, who has specialized in Iranian politics, says the chief motivation for the latest Iranian offer may also be domestic. He notes that Iran has entered what are called the annual “days of dawn” between Feb. 1 and 11, celebrating the Iranian revolution and the days between the Ayatollah Khomeini¹s return to Iran on Feb. 1, 1979, and the Shah’s exile 10 days later.

Demonstrations by the opposition

Traditionally these are days for celebrating the Islamic regime, Brumberg says, “but this year there could be large demonstrations by the opposition, and that may be making the regime nervous.” Under that scenario, the regime may be trying with its new declaration on uranium to bolster its authority at home by demonstrating its control of the nuclear controversy with the international community.

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