Major powers plan to offer to ease sanctions barring trade in gold and other precious metals with Iran in return for Iranian steps to shut down the nation's newly expanded Fordow uranium enrichment plant, Western officials said on Friday.
The officials said the offer is to be presented to Iran at Feb. 26 talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and they acknowledged that it represents a relatively modest update to proposals that the six major powers put forward last year.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the officials said their decision not to make a dramatically new offer in part reflected skepticism that Iran is ready to make a deal ahead of its June 14 presidential election.
The group, which includes Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States - and is known as the P5+1 - wants Iran to do more to prove that its nuclear program is for only non-military purposes and to permit wider U.N. inspections.
Iran denies it is seeking nuclear weapons but has refused, in recent years, to halt its uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for nuclear reactors or, ultimately, for bombs.
Israel, which is regarded as the Middle East's only nuclear power and which views a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat, has raised the possibility of taking military action to halt the Iranian atomic program.
While stressing he wants to resolve the dispute with Iran through diplomacy, U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday repeated a veiled military threat, saying "we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon."
The core of the new offer revises last year's demand that Iran stop producing higher-grade uranium, ship any stockpiles out of the country and close down its underground enrichment facility at Fordow, near the holy Iranian city of Qom.
"The next proposal is remarkably close to the old one," said one official who spoke on condition of anonymity, describing it as "a way to test whether they are serious or not."
"We don't think the Iranians have given us reason to do much more," he said. "It's basically an update ... so it does require a little bit more from Iran in terms of cooperation with the (International Atomic Energy Agency) and at Fordow."
According to the IAEA's November report, Iran has increased the number of centrifuges at Fordow, an underground plant that could be largely impervious to attack from the air, by 644 to 2,784 since mid-August.