Iran said to offer to fight jihadis if US relaxes nuke stance

Tehran reportedly looking to tie Islamic State battle to nuclear talks, but Western diplomats say two must be separate, Reuters reports

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Iran's deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi addresses the United Nations Security Council during a meeting on Iraq on September 19, 2014 at UN headquarters in New York City. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images/AFP)
Iran's deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi addresses the United Nations Security Council during a meeting on Iraq on September 19, 2014 at UN headquarters in New York City. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images/AFP)

Iranian officials indicated the Islamic Republic would be willing to back US efforts to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in exchange for easing the restrictions on its contested nuclear program, Reuters reported Sunday.

However, Western officials insisted that the two issues must remain distinct, a day after US Secretary of State John Kerry said Iran had a role to play in fighting the jihadists.

“Iran is a very influential country in the region and can help in the fight against the ISIL (IS) terrorists … but it is a two-way street. You give something, you take something,” an anonymous senior Iranian official said, according to the report.

The official insisted that the nuclear program “is a peaceful program,” while the Islamic State “is a threat to world security.”

Another Iranian official repeated that Iran was seeking a give-and-take approach in the West on regional issues and the nuclear talks, and called on the six world powers to show greater flexibility in the talks.

“Both sides can show flexibility that will lead to an acceptable number for everyone,” the official said, in reference to the number of centrifuges the Iranians would be allowed to keep as part of a long-term deal.

But diplomats involved in the nuclear negotiations said the West was adamant the talks should exclusively focus on the nuclear program, and said Iran had not raised the question of the Islamic State during the talks.

“We are seeing as we get closer to the end of the talks that the Iranians are tempted to bring other dossiers to the table,” a senior Western diplomat told Reuters.

“They sometimes indicate that if there were to not be a [nuclear] deal, the other dossiers in region would be more complicated,” he said. “The six are determined not to bring the other subjects to the nuclear negotiations table.”

Kerry said Saturday that in combating the jihadist threat “there is a role for nearly every country to play, including Iran.”

However, Tehran has indicated several times that it has rebuffed suggestions of working with the US-led coalition to battle Islamic State militants.

Last week, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claimed he had rejected a private approach from the United States suggesting cooperation on the battlefield.

US officials have not confirmed or denied making a request in private, but they do not regard Tehran as part of their coalition.

Nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers, including the US, restarted late last week, with the sides hoping to come to a long-term agreement before the November 24.

Iran has refused US demands that it gut its uranium enrichment program, but the two sides are now discussing a new proposal that would leave much of Tehran’s enriching machines in place but disconnected from feeds of uranium, diplomats told The Associated Press Saturday.

The talks have been stalled for months over Iran’s opposition to sharply reducing the size and output of centrifuges that can enrich uranium to levels needed for reactor fuel or weapons-grade material used in the core of nuclear warheads. Iran says its enrichment program is only for peaceful purposes, but Washington fears it could be used to make a bomb.

Time is running out before the deadline and both sides are eager to break the impasse.

Ahead of the resumption of talks Friday, the New York Times reported that Washington was considering putting a new plan on the table that would focus on removing piping connecting the centrifuges.

That would allow the US leeway on modifying demands that Iran cut the number of centrifuge machines from 19,000 to no more than 1,500.

Two diplomats told the AP that Tehran, which would gain an end to crippling nuclear-related sanctions as part of any deal, was initially noncommittal at a bilateral meeting in August. But they say the proposal has now moved to being discussed at the talks Tehran is holding with the US and five other powers, and that the Islamic Republic was listening closely.

Both diplomats demanded anonymity because their information is confidential.

While only a proposal, the plan would allow the Iranians to claim that they did not compromise on vows that they would never emasculate their enrichment capabilities, while keeping intact American demands that the program be downgraded to a point where it could not be quickly turned to making bombs.

AP and AFP contributed to this report.

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