WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration is considering a new approach in negotiations to curb Iran's nuclear program that would ease economic sanctions faster than previously offered if Tehran makes greater concessions than it has ever discussed.
The proposal is one of several options being discussed before another round of negotiations between world powers and the Islamic republic, officials said yesterday.
The strategizing is taking place amid an upsurge in diplomatic activity. The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency Friday announced talks of its own in Tehran in December.
Meanwhile, top negotiators from the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia have agreed to meet Nov. 21 in Brussels, a Western official said, in a prelude to a possible resumption of talks between those countries and Iran early next year.
By that time, the United States also could be wielding the threat of new and unprecedented sanctions against the Iranian economy that lawmakers in Congress are working on, according to congressional aides and people involved in drafting the measures.
The basic contours of any negotiated solution are clear: U.S., European and other international sanctions would be eased if Iran halts its enrichment of uranium that is getting closer to weapons-grade, sends abroad its existing stockpile of such uranium and suspends operations at its underground Fordo facility.
But Iran's leadership has refused that approach, even as the value of its currency has dropped precipitously against the dollar, sparking an economic depression and massive public discontent.
That has prompted U.S. brainstorming on ways to reshape the offer to make it more attractive for Iran, without granting new concessions that would reward the regime for its intransigence, administration officials said.
Officials say the administration is considering an expanded offer that includes a deeper and faster drawdown in the oil and other sanctions if Tehran agrees to far greater concessions that it has ever hinted at.
In Congress, lawmakers are working on new sanctions that could prevent Iran from doing business with most of the world until it agrees to international constraints on its nuclear program. The bipartisan financial and trade restrictions amount to a "complete sanctions regime" against Tehran, according to one congressional aide, but they put the Obama administration in a difficult position with allies who are still trading with Iran.
The measures by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) would target everything from Iranian assets overseas to all foreign goods that the country imports, building on the tough sanctions package against Tehran's oil industry that the duo pushed through earlier this year, according to congressional aides and people involved in the process.