Thursday, June 01, 2006

World Powers Agree on Iran Incentives

George Jahn, Yahoo News:
Six world powers agreed Thursday on a "significant" package of incentives to convince Iran to halt its uranium enrichment program, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Becket said. "I am pleased to say we have agreed (on) a set of far-reaching proposals," she said. "We believe they offer Iran the chance to reach a negotiated agreement based on cooperation."

She added that "if Iran agrees not to engage in negotiations, further steps will have to be taken."

After a meeting by France, Britain, Germany, the United States, Russia and China, Becket said "we urge Iran to take the positive path" and promised to suspend Security Council action against Tehran if it agreed to halt enrichment.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with the foreign ministers from the European nations that led stalled talks with Iran last year, and also with representatives of Russia and China. Russian and Chinese support is crucial to attach the threat of United Nations sanctions or other punishment to the package of incentives.

At the White House, President Bush warned that the confrontation would end up at the U.N. Security Council if Iran continues to enrich uranium.

"If they continue their obstinance, if they continue to say to the world `We really don't care what your opinion is,' then the world is going to act in concert," Bush said after meeting with his Cabinet at the White House.

Bush said he got a "positive response" in a telephone conversation on Tuesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, adding, "We expect Russia to participate in the United Nations Security Council. We'll see whether or not they agree to do that."

Bush also spoke about Iran on Thursday with Chinese President Hu Jintao. He said little about that conversation, saying, "They understood our strategy." The U.S. would need cooperation by Russia and China, Security Council members, before that body could act. READ MORE

On Wednesday, the United States announced it is now willing to join the European talks if Iran suspends suspect activities and returns to the table.

Iran's foreign minister welcomed the idea of direct talks, but rebuffed the U.S. condition that Tehran first must suspend uranium enrichment.

"Iran welcomes dialogue under just conditions but won't give up our rights," the state-run Iranian television quoted Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki as saying Thursday.

The shift in U.S. tactics was meant to offer the Iranians a last chance to avoid punishing sanctions. "We hope that in the coming days the Iranian government will thoroughly consider this proposal," Rice said before leaving Washington for Vienna.

Mottaki's statement issued at about the time Rice was arriving in Austria was the country's first direct reaction to the U.S. offer.

"We won't negotiate about the Iranian nation's natural nuclear rights but we are prepared, within a defined, just framework and without any discrimination, to hold dialogue about common concerns," he said.

The package outlined Wednesday by Rice would be on the table for any new talks including the United States. Previous talks among Iran, Britain, France and Germany foundered last year. Iran insists its nuclear work is peaceful and aimed at developing a new energy source.

The U.S. shift came with pressure growing on the Bush administration from European allies and others to talk directly to Iran. It also came on the eve of the six-nation meeting in Vienna that focused on finishing the package and ending months of disagreement between the United States and Russia on how to persuade Iran to stop uranium enrichment. That process can make fuel for nuclear power reactors or the fissile core of warheads.

The U.S. offer for talks is conditioned on Iran suspending its enrichment of uranium and related activities and allowing inspections to prove it. European nations and the Security Council have demanded the same thing, but Iran has refused to comply.

Iran's oil minister said late Wednesday in Caracas, Venezuela, that his country won't negotiate on its nuclear research program with the United States, and he blamed the U.S. for pushing oil prices higher through threats against his government.

"We're never going to negotiate the cycle of nuclear fuel that we have been able to achieve with the efforts of our country's scientists," Sayed Kazem Vaziri Hamaneh told the Venezuela-based TV station Telesur, according to a partial transcript of his remarks.

In Tehran on Wednesday, the official Iranian news agency initially criticized the U.S. offer as "a propaganda move."

The resolution being considered in Vienna, as outlined to the AP by diplomats familiar with a draft version of the text, calls for imposing sanctions under the U.N. Charter. But it avoids any reference to a specific article of the charter that can trigger possible military action to enforce any such resolution.

The proposal also calls for new consultations among the five permanent Security Council members on any further steps against Iran. That is meant to dispel complaints by the Russians and Chinese that once the screws on Iran are tightened, the council would move automatically toward military involvement.

The possible sanctions include a visa ban on government officials, freezing assets, blocking financial transactions by government figures and those involved in the country's nuclear program, an arms embargo and a blockade on the shipping of refined oil products to Iran.

AP Diplomatic Writer Anne Gearan contributed to this story from Vienna.