Police guard in front of Hotel Palais Coburg during closed-door nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria, Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif continue their nuclear talks in an effort to meet the target date of Nov. 24., but with less than six weeks left, there may be no alternative than to prolonging them. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)
VIENNA — Iran is considering a U.S. proposal at nuclear talks that would allow it to keep more of its nuclear infrastructure intact while still reducing its ability to make an atomic bomb, two diplomats told The Associated Press on Thursday.
At issue is Iran's uranium enrichment program, which can make both reactor fuel and the fissile core of nuclear arms. Tehran insists the program is only for future energy needs. Iran is refusing U.S. demands that it cut the number of working enriching centrifuges from nearly 10,000 to only a few thousand. That dispute has been the main stumbling block to progress since the talks began early this year.
Ahead of a Nov. 24 deadline to seal a deal, diplomats told the AP last month that U.S. had begun floating alternates to reducing centrifuges that would eliminate the disagreement but still accomplish the goal of increasing the time Iran would need to make a nuclear weapon.
Among them was an offer to tolerate more centrifuges if Tehran agreed to reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, which can fuel reactors but is also easily turned into weapons-grade material.
Back then, Iran was non-committal. But the two diplomats said Thursday it recently began discussions with Moscow on possibly shipping some of its low-enriched stockpile to Russia for future use as an energy source. Russia supplies fuel for Iran's existing nuclear reactor.
The diplomats demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss confidential information. They stressed the discussions were preliminary and Iran had made no commitment.
Iranian officials at the closed talks were not reachable for comment.
Experts say the low-enriched uranium Iran has stored, if further enriched, could arm up to seven nuclear weapons. They estimate it would take Tehran between 3-to-12 months to have enough weapons-grade uranium for one bomb.