* US joins other world powers in talks with Iran Thursday
* Washington willing to offer limited sanctions relief
* Israel opposes "half-deal" that eases pressure on Tehran
(Adds details, quotes)
By Louis Charbonneau and Yeganeh Torbati
GENEVA, Nov 6 The United States increased
pressure on Iran on Wednesday to agree in the next two days a
"first step" nuclear deal that would see it halt expansion of
its atomic programme and reverse parts of it.
On the eve of two-day talks with world powers, a senior U.S.
administration official said that Washington could, in return,
offer Iran "very limited, temporary, reversible" relief on the
sanctions imposed to pressure Tehran to stop the nuclear
activities that the West fears are weapons-related.
"For the first time, Iran appears to be committed to moving
this negotiation process forward quickly," the official said on
condition of anonymity, adding: "nothing is yet agreed to (and)
there are gaps between the two sides which remain quite real."
The Geneva talks are the second round of negotiations that
started in the Swiss city last month, seeking to build on a
diplomatic opening created by the June election of Hassan
Rouhani as Iran's new president, promising to open a fresh
dialogue with the West.
Washington has called the last session productive, in
contrast to previous meetings at which, Western participants
said, the Iranians often read out long speeches that had little
or nothing to do with their nuclear programme.
This week's meeting between Iran and the five permanent U.N.
Security Council members - Britain, China, France, Russia and
the United States - and Germany (P5+1) should aim to build on
that, the official said.
"What we're looking for is a first phase, a first step, an
initial understanding that stops Iran's nuclear programme from
moving forward and rolls it back for first time in decades."
A deal would likely need to involve suspending the expansion
of Iran's enrichment centrifuge programme, halting the
introduction of more advanced centrifuges, ending uranium
enrichment to 20 percent fissile purity level and allowing U.N.
inspectors to conduct more intrusive inspections.
Washington and Europe also want Tehran to halt construction
of the Arak heavy water reactor that would be capable of
producing plutonium if it became operational.
IRAN: GENEVA TALKS "A TEST"
Such moves by Tehran would create space for further
negotiations on a comprehensive settlement, the official said.
"We're looking for ways to put additional time on the clock."
Israel, which along with its U.S. ally has said it does not
rule out military strikes on Iran to stop it getting the bomb,
is opposed to any such deal.
"Israel's assessment is that the P5+1 is in a very strong
position because of the sanctions that are hurting Iran and ...
they have the ability to compel Iran to cease all enrichment at
all levels and cease all work at Arak," an Israeli official told
Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Israel has learned that a deal to be proposed in Geneva
would offer sanctions relief in exchange for Iran ceasing
uranium enrichment to 20 percent and slowing down work at Arak,
the official said.
"From Israel's point of view, this is a very bad deal ...
Israel is expressing its opposition to half-deals like this and
will continue to do so."
Iran denies it is seeking weapons capability and says it
enriches uranium for peaceful energy and medical purposes only.
But its refusal to curb nuclear activity that can also have
military applications has drawn sanctions from the United
Nations, the United States and the European Union. The Western
embargoes have ravaged Iran's oil-dependent economy with high
inflation and a sharp decline in the value of its currency.
Iran's senior negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas
Araqchi, told Iran's Press TV on Wednesday that Tehran saw this
week's meeting as a test of the powers' seriousness.
"The Geneva talks will be a measure to test the P5+1 group
and in these negotiations the level of their political will to
reach a resolution will be put to test," Araqchi said.
The U.S. official urged Congress to hold off on new
sanctions against Iran while negotiations continue.
"What we are saying to them is: let us have a pause, a brief
one," the official said.
"I have said to the Congress and I have said to the Iranians
that we have asked for this pause, but if we do not move forward
quickly on a first step that will buy us some time for a
comprehensive agreement, that we will be right with the Congress
to impose additional sanctions."
(Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl and Justyna Pawlak and by
Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)