Bushehr nuclear reactor
Bushehr nuclear reactor Reuters

Iran has reduced demands for the size of its future nuclear enrichment program in talks with world powers, Reuters reported on Thursday, citing Western diplomats close to the negotiations.

The diplomats, who spoke to the news agency at the start of a two-week round of negotiations between Iran and the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, said that despite some movement from Tehran it would not be easy to clinch a deal by their self-imposed deadline for a deal of July 20.

Tehran's shift relates to the main sticking point in the talks - the number of uranium enrichment centrifuges Iran will maintain if a deal is reached to curb its nuclear program in exchange for a gradual end of sanctions.

"Iran has reduced the number of centrifuges it wants but the number is still unacceptably high," a Western diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity and without further detail.

On Wednesday, a senior Iranian official told Reuters that Tehran has refused to back down from its demand to maintain 50,000 operational centrifuges, a figure deemed by Western officials to be out of keeping with Iran's stated need for a strictly civilian nuclear energy program.

"Iran needs at least 50,000 centrifuges and not 49,999," the Iranian official told Reuters. "We will not compromise on that ... The other party is talking about a few thousands and this is unacceptable for Iran."

Those comments are in line with ones made following the last round of talks by Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who said that Iran rejected the West’s "excessive demands".

The Western diplomats, however, said that behind closed doors Iran was no longer insisting on 50,000 machines. It had signaled it would settle for a lower figure but declined to be specify the number so as not to disrupt the negotiations.

Iran now has over 19,000 centrifuges, though only around 10,000 of those are running. The powers want that number cut to the low thousands, to ensure Iran cannot quickly produce enough high-enriched uranium for a bomb, should it choose to do so.

Iranian officials declined to comment directly on the reported concession on centrifuges.

"As we said, we are ready to assure the world that we are not after the bombs," another senior Iranian official told Reuters. "We have shown our goodwill but will not yield to demands that violate our rights.”

Iran and the six powers, also known as the P5+1, have been striving to turn an interim deal signed in November into a comprehensive settlement by July 20.

Iran has previously insisted that it will never give up on what it sees as its right to uranium enrichment.

Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned Iran that a nuclear deal is still possible, but time is running out.

In an editorial piece which appeared in The Washington Post, Kerry wrote, “All along, these negotiations have been about a choice for Iran’s leaders. They can agree to the steps necessary to assure the world that their country’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful and not be used to build a weapon, or they can squander a historic opportunity to end Iran’s economic and diplomatic isolation and improve the lives of their people.”