Iran is ready to consider suspending uranium enrichment for up to two months, diplomats told The Associated Press on Sunday.
The diplomats, who insisted on anonymity to disclose confidential information, spoke shortly after senior Iranian and European Union diplomats held a second day of talks on Tehran's defiance of a U.N. demand that it suspend enrichment, which can be used to make nuclear arms.
They said the compromise was mentioned by Ali Larijani, Tehran's chief nuclear negotiator, during his meeting with the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana.
One diplomat said Larijani floated the possibility of stopping enrichment activities "voluntarily, for one or two months if presented ... in such a way that it does it without pressure."
Such a concession would be a major departure by Iran, which is under threat of possible U.N. Security Council for ignoring an Aug. 31 deadline to halt all enrichment activities.
Earlier, both Larijani and Solana spoke of progress in their discussions and agreed to meet again later this week.
Their talks had been given little chance after months of a building crisis over enrichment. But while neither side disclosed the substance of the talks, Solana said that "the meeting was worth it" and Larijani told reporters that "many of the misunderstandings were removed.
"We have reached a common point of view on a number of issues," Larijani said.
The meeting had been billed as possibly the last chance for Iran to avoid penalties for rejecting the Security Council's demand.
Iran says its nuclear program is intended solely to produce fuel for nuclear reactors to generate electricity. But there are growing concerns Tehran seeks the technology to enrich uranium for use in atomic warheads.
The talks were focused on seeking common ground for negotiations between six world powers and Iran. While the five permanent Security Council members — the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia — along with Germany have demanded that Iran fully freeze enrichment as a condition for negotiations, Tehran has steadfastly refused to do so.
The six powers agreed on a package of economic and political rewards in June to be offered to Tehran, but only if it stops enrichment before the start of negotiations meant to achieve a long-term enrichment moratorium.
But the international alliance also warned of punishments, including U.N. sanctions, if Tehran does not halt enrichment.
Iran's package of counterproposals, made Aug. 22, has not been fully disclosed but was initially dismissed as inadequate by leaders of the six-nation alliance, primarily because it made no mention of a pre-negotiation enrichment freeze.
Still, both Larijani and Solana indicated the gap had been narrowed.
Their comments — and the diplomats' report of Iranian readiness to consider a temporary enrichment stop — jibed with indications that positions may have shifted slightly, both for Iran and within the six-nation alliance.
European officials suggested earlier that at least some of the six nations were ready to listen if Iran committed itself to an enrichment freeze soon after the start of negotiations instead of before talks.
The officials declined to provide details. But such readiness would be a blow to U.S.-led attempts to hold fast to the demand that Iran freeze enrichment before any talks — or face the prospect of Security Council sanctions.
One of the officials said Solana discussed the issue with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice before talking with Larijani, but declined to offer details.
Before the Solana-Larijani meeting in the Austrian capital, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said Washington expected the Security Council to start discussing a draft on sanctions as early as this week, unless Tehran does a last-minute turn and agrees to halt enrichment.
But there might be opposition to that. Russia and China have resisted a quick move to sanctions even though they agree to them as the ultimate punishment.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy last week appeared to suggest that the demand to stop enrichment before talks was negotiable, saying: "The question is to know at what moment this suspension takes place compared to negotiations."
He later appeared to reverse himself, saying in separate comments that "suspension ... is an absolute prerequisite for restoring trust and resuming negotiations."
A European diplomat told AP such vacillation appeared to reflect that — although Britain, France and Germany formally represent the European Union within the six-nation coalition — a sizable number of countries within the 25-member EU oppose a quick move to sanctions.