U.S. looks for Iran to slow uranium enrichment

October 3, 2013

By Arshad Mohammed and Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON, Oct 3 (Reuters) - The United States is looking for Iran to take specific steps to slow its uranium enrichment and to open a wider window into its nuclear program, a top U.S. official said on Thursday ahead of Oct. 15-16 negotiations with Tehran.

Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the lead U.S. negotiator with Iran, also urged U.S. lawmakers to hold off on imposing additional sanctions against Iran ahead of the talks.

In testimony for Congress, Sherman held out the possibility of sanctions relief for Iran, but she made it clear the United States expected concrete actions from Tehran before this could happen and said all U.S. concerns about Iran's nuclear program must be addressed before the core sanctions could be removed.

"We will be looking for specific steps by Iran that address core issues, including but not limited to, the pace and scope of its enrichment program, the transparency of its overall nuclear program and (stockpiles) of enriched uranium," Sherman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"The Iranians in return will doubtless be seeking some relief from comprehensive international sanctions that are now in place," she added. "We have been clear that only concrete viable steps, and verifiable steps, can offer a path to sanctions relief."

The United States, which broke diplomatic ties with Iran in 1980 after the Islamic revolution, and its allies suspect Iran is using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies this, saying its program is for solely civilian and peaceful purposes.

Six major powers - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States - will meet Iran's new negotiating team in Geneva on Oct. 15-16 to discuss its nuclear program.

The United States and its allies have imposed extensive sanctions against Iran, including a U.S. law that forced buyers of Iranian crude to sharply cut their purchases, because of Tehran's failure to address their concerns about the nuclear program.

At the hearing, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, a Democrat, said some U.S. lawmakers are moving forward on new U.S. sanctions to further cut Iranian petroleum sales, but held out the possibility of sanctions relief if Iran lives up to its U.N. Security Council obligations.

Those obligations include ceasing the enrichment of uranium, a process that can produce fuel for nuclear power plants or, if extended, fissile material for an atomic bomb.