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As Nuclear Talks Resume, Iranian Negotiators Consider Republican Letter

DON GONYEA, HOST:

Senate Republicans sent a controversial letter to Iranian leaders last week about the talks aimed at limiting that country's nuclear program. They say the U.S. is headed toward a bad deal. The talks have picked up again in Switzerland. Negotiators are trying to reach the outlines of an agreement by the end of the month, and that letter came up. NPR's Peter Kenyon has more.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: The GOP letter questioning the durability and legal standing of a potential nuclear agreement was criticized as an effort to alarm Iran and jeopardize the sensitive talks, so there's been considerable interest in how the Iranian side would react. It came up twice, says a senior administration official, both times by Iran. But the vast majority of the time in these talks has focused on trying to reach a political accord on the major elements of an agreement, not the letter.

If there is to be an understanding this month and a final deal by the end of June, both sides will have to make major compromises that will make the deal harder to sell back home. And while the talks remain confidential, there are signs of progress. A former Iranian negotiator, Hossein Mousavian, recently gave an interview to the nonprofit American Iranian Council that appears to indicate a much more nuanced and pragmatic Iranian position. He said Tehran understands the need for a phased-in approach, under which Iran would at first accept tough restrictions on their program - tougher than other countries that signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)

HOSSEIN MOUSAVIAN: Within NPT, we have no problem to accept everything at the maximum. Even beyond NPT, we are ready, for a period, to accept some measures beyond NPT, like enrichment at five percent, like limited stockpile, like no reprocessing.

KENYON: That's technical shorthand for what would be crucial compromises by Iran if confirmed inside the negotiating room. Limiting Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium fuel is key to giving U.N. inspectors enough time to warn the outside world if Iran attempted to covertly pursue a nuclear weapon. And no reprocessing means plutonium from Arak heavy water reactor could not be converted into usable fuel for either a reactor or a warhead. Such tantalizing signals are raising hopes for supporters of a deal and increasing anxiety among critics in Tehran, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Washington. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Lausanne, Switzerland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.