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Iran N-talks snag on freezing enrichment, easing sanctions

Talks between Iran and six world powers snagged Wednesday over dueling proposals concerning Tehran's nuclear program, a tug-of-war that pits international concerns about the Islamic Republic's potential to build atomic weapons against enforcement of crippling sanctions on its people.

The daylong back-and-forth in Baghdad focused largely on whether the current enrichment level of Iran's uranium production is a red line that the United States and other powers will not permit for fear it could become warhead-grade material.

Western negotiators presented a package Wednesday that called on Tehran to place a freeze on its enrichment of uranium to 20 percent, considered a short technical step away from bomb grade. In exchange they offered benefits, including medical isotopes, some nuclear safety cooperation and spare parts for civilian airliners, much needed in Iran.

But they snubbed Iranian calls for an immediate easing of economic sanctions imposed on Tehran for flouting U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding the suspension of all enrichment.

Iran brought a potent bargaining chip to the table, tentatively agreeing on the eve of the negotiations to allow U.N. inspectors into a military complex suspected of conducting nuclear arms-related tests.

The gesture was seen as an attempt to head off painful July 1 sanctions on its oil exports to lucrative European markets. U.S. and European measures have targeted Iran's oil exports -- its chief revenue source -- and effectively blocked the country from international banking networks.