Tuesday, June 20, 2006

EU Offers Iran Last-minute Nuclear Talks

Simon Tisdall and Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian:
The EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, has made an unexpected private offer of last-minute talks to persuade the Iranian government to accept the west's nuclear package. Sources in Tehran said on Tuesday that Mr Solana had had telephone conversations with Ali Larijani, the chief Iranian nuclear negotiator, in an attempt to clarify "ambiguities" in the joint offer from the United States, Britain and other European countries.

Iran has so far declined to respond formally to the offer that includes a range of incentives should it agree to suspend uranium enrichment. Although it has described the package as a "positive step forward", Tehran has said some of the elements are vague and uncertain.

Saeid Jalili, deputy minister of foreign affairs, confirmed in an interview that renewed discussions were under way. "My colleagues have talked with Mr Solana over the phone and the gentleman has expressed a willingness to come and explain the ambiguities. That is good, and we welcome that.

"So far we have not arranged anything. It is just an expression of willingness."

A western diplomat confirmed the EU initiative. "We have offered them a further meeting. It would be semi-private and there would be no press conferences." He said the meeting could take place in Vienna or Tehran. READ MORE

Mr Solana's offer has underlined the high stakes riding on Iran's acceptance of the western package, designed to halt the long-running dispute over its controversial nuclear activities.

The EU said on Monday it expected to have a formal response - and hopefully an acceptance of the offer - by the end of the month. The western diplomat agreed there was a de facto deadline: "Time is important. The G8 foreign ministers meet at the end of the month and the G8 [leaders] in mid-July. They will say what is Iran's response to our proposals."

But Iran has publicly insisted it will not be pressurised and will accept no pre-conditions for talks. The foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said this week the package was being debated by expert committees. Iran's final word is expected to come from the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, or from Mr Larijani.

The US president, George Bush, warned Iran on Monday that Washington "would not waver" from its insistence that Tehran cease all enrichment activities at its Natanz nuclear facility. If Iran did not comply, he implied the US would refuse to participate in future negotiations.