Thursday, June 29, 2006

G-8 Nations Want Iran's Answer Next Week

Anne Gearan, Forbes:
The United States, Russia and other industrial democracies said Thursday they expect Iran to answer "yes" or "no" next week to an international offer to bargain over Tehran's disputed nuclear program.

"We are disappointed in the absence of an official Iranian response to this positive proposal," said a statement from foreign ministers of the Group of Eight industrial nations. "We expect to hear a clear and substantive Iranian response to these proposals" at a meeting scheduled for July 5 between the European Union's foreign minister and Iran's nuclear negotiator.

The statement said the international coalition that made the offer to Iran "will assess the situation before mid-July." That would be just before leaders of the G-8 nations meet July 15-17 in Russia, where they are expected to consider the Iran situation. READ MORE

The G-8 diplomats also discussed a range of pressing issues. They condemned the abduction of an Israeli soldier in the Gaza Strip and asked the Palestinian government to "take immediate measures" to free him. And the group asked Israel "to exercise utmost restraint in the current crisis. The detention of elected members of the Palestinian government and Legislature raises particular concern."

Israeli troops arrested dozens of ministers and lawmakers from the Palestinians' elected Hamas leadership Thursday.

The United States has not issued its own separate response, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed on to the joint statement, which is a coded criticism of Israel.

At a news conference following lengthy meetings with the diplomats from Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy, France, Canada and Japan, Rice noted the call for restraint from Israel.

"With restraint, perhaps, we can get back to a place where there are hopes again for a peace process," Rice said.

On Iran, the G-8 diplomats called Tehran's nuclear program "a source of international concern," and endorsed the offer to Iran to accept economic incentives in return for swearing off disputed aspects of the program, which Tehran claims is peaceful.

"An agreement of this sort would allow the Iranian people to enjoy the benefits of modern civil nuclear power and would bring Iran many other long-term political and economic advantages," the G-8 ministers' statement said.

"We are disappointed in the absence of an official Iranian response to this positive proposal," the statement said.

The ministers also discussed world hotspots including North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans. And they issued a call to international donors for new aid.

On Iraq, they offered support to the new permanent Iraqi government and commended its new national reconciliation initiative, which some U.S. politicians have criticized as too accommodating toward insurgents.

Russian Prime Minster Sergey Lavrov did not directly respond to a question about whether United Nations economic sanctions would follow if Iran fails to reply or rejects the proposed bargain. Russian and China, permanent veto-holding members of the U.N. Security Council, have opposed harsh measures for their commercial partner Tehran in the past, but U.S. diplomats say those nations are expected cooperate if the Iran case gets that far.

Lavrov said sanctions were not a part of Thursday's talks

"We did not discuss anything beyond the offer," he told reporters.

The meeting between the European Union's Javier Solana and Iran's Ali Larijani on July 5 will be the first since the EU official presented the incentive package to the Iranian negotiator in Tehran on June 6. Larijani said then that the proposals contained "positive steps" but talks were needed to clear up ambiguities.

Iran has not replied formally to a U.S. offer for the first high-level direct talks in more than a quarter of a century. The talks would be aimed at shuttering disputed nuclear activities that the West fears could lead to a bomb while rewarding Iran with economic incentives and help developing civilian nuclear power.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tuesday that Iran does not need negotiations with the United States over its nuclear program. Khamenei, who has the final word on all state matters, did not give his position on the proposals presented to Iran earlier this month.

Associated Press Writer Edith Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.