With the Aug. 31 deadline that the U.N. Security Council set for Iran to suspend its nuclear program approaching, diplomats from Europe, the United States, Russia and China are considering a counterproposal Iran issued Tuesday but revealed no details.
Russia and China have backed Iran's calls for further negotiations on its nuclear program, which Tehran insists is for civilian purposes only. Western nations are concerned the program could be used to develop nuclear weapons.
"As we have always said ... a return to the negotiating table is tied to the suspension of uranium enrichment," said French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy at a news conference, Reuters reported.
Iran said Tuesday it was willing to engage in "serious negotiations" with six nations offering an incentives package to end its nuclear program. But as part of its reply, Iran said talks must start before it suspends nuclear activities, two unnamed European diplomats said, according to Reuters.
Analysts believe Iran's answer was probably designed to draw Iranian trade partners Russia and China away from other Security Council members -- the United States, Britain and France. Each of the council members has the ability to veto a resolution.
A report due Aug. 31 from Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, is expected to say whether Iran has suspended its uranium enrichment work -- a key process in developing atomic bombs.
U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said Washington was ready to move quickly on a resolution if Iran rejects the incentives offered by the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany.
At the U.S. State Department, acting spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos stressed the United States was still reviewing Iran's proffer.
"We acknowledge that Iran considers its response as a serious offer, and we will review it," Gallegos said. "The response, however, falls short of the conditions set by the Security Council, which require the full and verifiable suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities."