The European Union official leading international diplomacy on the nuclear standoff with Iran has proposed creating an international nuclear fuel enrichment facility for use by all states.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana warned that existing non-proliferation rules were in danger of collapse because many countries perceived imbalances in the current treaty regime that favour existing nuclear powers.
"The international system of non-proliferation is vital to the world but is in serious danger of disintegrating," Solana told a think-tank audience in Madrid late on Wednesday.
He noted that Arab states such as Morocco, Egypt and Jordan had started ambitious nuclear programmes in the last year, while Iran was enriching uranium for non-existent power stations.
"The only way of finding a lasting solution to these problems is. . . by creating an international enrichment centre under multilateral supervision. All states would have access to this enriched fuel on equal terms and at competitive prices," he said according to a text of his speech.
Solana has led months of so-far fruitless talks with Tehran to persuade it to come into line with international demands that it suspend uranium enrichment which the West believes is aimed at creating an atomic bomb an allegations Iran rejects.
He gave no details of the the proposal, which relates to one of the most sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle. Enriched uranium can be used in power stations or, if more highly enriched, in weapons.
Last week, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said Iran's Gulf neighbours were willing to set up a body to provide it with enriched uranium under International Atomic Energy Agency supervision.
Two days later Iran's deputy chief nuclear negotiator said Tehran welcomed proposals for joint enrichment projects with other countries, "but if the condition is stopping enrichment in Iran, it will not be acceptable".
Solana's call echoed a proposal put to Iran in June 2006 under which major powers would have supplied it with enriched fuel if it halted its own enrichment activities. Tehran spurned that plan in a move which sparked a first round of sanctions.
Solana and the head of the UN nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, are to report to major powers by the end of the month on Iran's behaviour, which will be vital in determining whether the UN Security Council adopts tougher sanctions on Tehran.
Iran and others frequently accuse nuclear-armed powers such as the United States, Britain and France of seeking to deprive others of nuclear technology while ignoring obligations on them, notably provisions relating to disarmament in pacts such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Other states point out that existing legal frameworks do not adequately deal with the spread of small arms that fuel many local conflicts around the globe.
Solana proposed that the EU could launch an international debate on the non-proliferation system in which emerging powers countries such as China, India, South Africa, Brazil and Mexico would play a full part.