Days after senior Iranian lawmakers intensified pressure on their country's government to reject a UN-backed plan for Teheran to ship uranium abroad for further enrichment, the New York Times reported Monday that in a bid to salvage the deal, Washington had told Iran's leaders in back-channel messages that it would allow the Islamic republic to send its stockpile of enriched uranium to any of several nations, including Turkey, for temporary safekeeping.
However, quoting administration officials and diplomats involved in the exchanges, the newspaper said that the offer had fallen on deaf ears, and that instead, "the Iranians are pushing for an old counterproposal: that international arms inspectors take custody of much of Iran's fuel, but keep it on Kish, a Persian Gulf resort island that is part of Iran."
A senior Obama administration official said that proposal had been dismissed for fear of Iran expelling the inspectors at any given moment.
According to the original UN-drafted deal, Iran would ship much of its uranium to Russia and France for further enrichment, setting back the nuclear program and the time-frame in which Iran could reach "breakout" capacity.
The Times said that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei had been mediating the back-channel exchanges between Washington and Teheran.
The newspaper further cited Obama aides as saying that the US president would wait until the end of 2009 before concluding that Iran had rejected his offers of diplomatic engagement.
It also said that Obama had reportedly sent Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei two private letters this year, but received only one response, "mostly a litany of past grievances."
The Times went on to say that Obama would "almost certainly" discuss Iran's backing off the enrichment offer with visiting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during a meeting at the White House on Monday evening.
Meanwhile, in an apparent boost for Washington, an advance copy of a Der Spiegel interview with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev showed that Moscow did not rule out joining an international effort to isolate the Islamic republic through harsher sanctions.
"If an agreement is reached on programs for the enrichment of uranium and its use in Iran for peaceful means, then we will gladly participate in these programs," Medvedev said in a copy of the interview with German weekly which was released on Saturday and obtained by Reuters.
Late Sunday, state television quoted Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili as saying Teheran "welcomes" talks with the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany, with which it had conducted talks in Geneva and Vienna.
Jalili spoke during a meeting with Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov, who expressed hope the nuclear talks would be "concluded soon."
AP contributed to this report