The comments from the officials, who asked not to be named,
highlight how difficult it may be for the Western powers to keep the
nuclear negotiations separate from other regional conflicts. Iran
wields influence in the Syrian civil war and on the Iraqi
government, which is fighting the advance of Islamic State fighters.
Iran has sent mixed signals about its willingness to cooperate on
defeating Islamic State (IS), a hard-line Sunni Islamist group that
has seized large swaths of territory across Syria and Iraq and is
blamed for a wave of sectarian violence, beheadings and massacres of
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said recently that he
vetoed a U.S. overture to the Islamic Republic to work together on
defeating IS, but U.S. officials said there was no such offer. In
public, both Washington and Tehran have ruled out cooperating
militarily in tackling the IS threat.
But in private, Iranian officials have voiced a willingness to work
with the United States on IS, though not necessarily on the
battlefield. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday that
Iran has a role to play in defeating Islamic State, indicating the
U.S. position may also be shifting.
"Iran is a very influential country in the region and can help in
the fight against the ISIL (IS) terrorists ... but it is a two-way
street. You give something, you take something," said a senior
Iranian official on condition of anonymity.
"ISIL is a threat to world security, not our (nuclear) program,
which is a peaceful program," the official added.
Tehran rejects Western allegations that it is amassing the
capability to produce atomic weapons under cover of a civilian
nuclear energy program.
Another Iranian official echoed the remarks. Both officials said
they would like the United States and its Western allies to show
flexibility on the number of atomic centrifuges Tehran could keep
under any long-term deal that would lift sanctions in exchange for
curbs on Tehran's nuclear program.
"Both sides can show flexibility that will lead to an acceptable
number for everyone," another Iranian official said.
WEST WANTS TO KEEP ATOMIC TALKS SEPARATE
Kerry held bilateral talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad
Javad Zarif in New York for more than an hour on Sunday, a senior
State Department official said. The meeting focused on the need to
make progress in this week's nuclear talks and the threat of Islamic
The official did not provide details on the discussions between
Kerry and Zarif, who met for the first time a year ago on the
sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly when Iran and six world
powers reopened negotiations with Tehran.
Western officials told Reuters that Iran has not raised this idea in
nuclear negotiations with the United States, Britain, France,
Germany, Russia and China that resumed in New York on Friday.
Diplomats close to the talks say they are unlikely to settle in New
York on a long-term accord that would lift sanctions in exchange for
curbs on Iranian nuclear work.
The Western officials said it would be difficult for them to even
discuss the point in the atomic negotiations as the United States
and its allies are determined to keep the nuclear negotiations
focused exclusively on atomic issues as the Nov. 24 deadline for a
"We are seeing as we get closer to the end of the talks that the
Iranians are tempted to bring other dossiers to the table," a senior
Western diplomat said.
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"They sometimes indicate that if there were to not be a (nuclear)
deal, the other dossiers in region would be more complicated," he
added. "The six are determined not to bring the other subjects to
the nuclear negotiations table."
The New York talks among senior
foreign ministry officials from the six powers and Iran are taking
place on the sidelines of this week's annual gathering of world
leaders at the U.N. General Assembly.
The number of nuclear centrifuges has emerged as the principal
sticking point in negotiations, which are expected to continue in
New York until at least Sept. 26.
Centrifuges are machines that spin at supersonic speed to increase
the ratio of the fissile isotope in uranium. Low-enriched uranium is
used to fuel nuclear power plants, Iran's stated goal, but can also
provide material for bombs if refined much further, which the West
fears may be Iran's latent goal.
Iran currently has over 19,000 centrifuges, though only around
10,000 of those are operational. The six powers want Iran to reduce
the number of operational centrifuges to the low thousands, to
ensure it cannot quickly produce enough bomb-grade uranium for a
weapon, should it choose to do so.
Iranians are keen to keep as many of their centrifuges as possible,
and have also suggested that they could keep all 19,000 installed
while maintaining a much smaller number in an operational state.
Western officials say they dislike that idea.
U.S. officials have made clear for months that the number of
centrifuges they are willing to tolerate operating in Iran over the
medium term would be in the low thousands to ensure that Tehran's
ability to produce a usable amount of bomb-grade uranium, should it
go down that road, is severely limited.
Iran says such draconian limitations would be a violation of its
right to enrich. Supreme Leader Khamenei has called that issue a
"red line" for Tehran.
Centrifuges are not the only sticking point in the talks. Others
include the duration of any nuclear deal, the timetable for ending
the sanctions, and the fate of a research reactor that could yield
significant quantities of bomb-grade plutonium.
Under a November 2013 interim deal, Iran froze some parts of its
atomic program in exchange for limited sanctions relief. That
agreement was intended to buy time for negotiations on a
comprehensive deal that end the decade-long standoff with Iran and
remove the risk of yet another war in the Middle East.
(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton in New York, John Irish in
Paris and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Editing by Marguerita Choy)
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