'Obama could accept Iran civilian nuclear program'

US president sends secret message to Khamenei via Turkey, urging him to prove Tehran will not pursue nuclear weapons.

Ahmadinejad nuclear unveiling 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ahmadinejad nuclear unveiling 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Barack Obama reportedly sent a secret message to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei expressing a willingness to accept an Iranian civilian nuclear program if Iran can prove it will not pursue nuclear weapons, The Washington Post reported Friday.
According to columnist David Ignatius, Obama sent Khamenei the message via Turkish Prime Minister Recap Erdogan, who was was in Iran last week. The message, sent ahead of next week's scheduled nuclear negotiations, was meant to emphasize that "time is running out for a peaceful settlement," Ignatius wrote.
A proposal allowing Iran a safeguarded, civilian nuclear program in exchange for stringent nuclear safeguards would not be new. According to the Arms Control Association, in the aftermath of the 2003 Iraq war, the George W. Bush administration rejected a proposal from Iran that would limit its nuclear program to energy production.
Negotiations between Iran and key European countries in 2005 led to several proposals, ultimately rejected over the subject of Iranian uranium enrichment, to ensure Iran's nuclear program had no military aspect. 
Updated proposals surfaced in 2006, 2008 and 2009, including variations that would allow uranium "fuel swaps" to rid Iran of its excess enriched uranium or set Russia as a low-level uranium supplier.
Earlier on Friday, Iran said its strategic relationship with Turkey should not be damaged after Erdogan said Tehran was insincere about proposing nuclear talks with world powers in Syria or Iraq.
Tensions between Turkey and Iran have risen after Turkey's vocal opposition to Syrian President Bashar Assad, who has close ties with Iran, and Istanbul hosting the Syrian opposition and international meetings of nations opposed to the Damascus government.
Turkey's Erdogan said suggesting Damascus or Baghdad as a venue for the meeting was a "waste of time, it means it won't happen". He told the news conference Tehran was losing its international prestige because of its "lack of honesty".
"We should not allow comments by different officials in the two countries to harm the strategic relations between us," the official IRNA news agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast as saying.
He did not specifically name Erdogan, who met President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and had a rare audience with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a visit to Iran last week.
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"A difference of opinion on some political regional issues is natural and through dialogue one should try to bridge the gap between countries' stances and find the best possible solution to existing crises," Mehmanparast said.
Iran is at odds with the West over its disputed nuclear program, which the United states and its allies say is aimed at making nuclear weapons. Tehran denies the charge, saying its nuclear work is aimed at generating electricity.
Erdogan said on his return from Iran that he had received assurances from the Iranian leaders that their nuclear program was purely civilian and said he had no reason to doubt their sincerity.
Reuters contributed to this report.