Sunday, July 02, 2006

Iran Again Rejects Deadline on Nuclear Proposal

Nazila Fathi, The New York Times:
Iran today again rejected a deadline to respond to an international proposal to end the standoff over its nuclear program, saying it will respond in a month from now. "We do not consider such statements as constructive and invite them to wait for our answer until next month," said Hamidreza Assefi, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, the ISNA news agency reported.

The next month in the Iranian calendar begins July 23. Mr. Assefi was referring to a meeting of the Group of 8's foreign ministers in Russia on Thursday, during which they demanded that Iran make a "clear and substantive" response to the proposal in a week. READ MORE

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had previously said that Iran would give its answer around Aug. 23.

"We will take into account our country's rights and interests and will also try to alleviate the other side's concerns," Mr. Assefi said. "But that does not mean that we will sacrifice our own interests."

In June, Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, offered Iran a package of proposals from Germany and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council: China, Russia, Britain, France and the United States.

Details of the package have not been made public, but diplomats have said it includes political and economic incentives and a promise to help develop Iran's nuclear program in return for its suspending its nuclear enrichment program.

Mr. Assefi said today that Iran's chief nuclear negotiator would meet with Mr. Solana on Wednesday to discuss the package.

In a communiqué issued Thursday, foreign ministers from the Group of 8 nations — United States, Russia, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Britain and Japan — demanded a response from Iran to the proposals by Wednesday. The ministers said they expected that response to come when the Iranian negotiator, Ali Larijani, and Mr. Solana meet. That meeting is expected to take place in Paris.

Mr. Assefi said the offer had ambiguities that needed to be discussed with the Europeans. He also said several committees were studying the offer.

He also said Europe should be thankful that Iran was "examining the proposal with such a positive attitude and precision."

In a separate news conference today, the minister of intelligence, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, linked the arrest of an Iranian-Canadian philosopher, Ramin Jahanbegloo, to what he said were efforts by the United States to start a "soft revolution" in Iran. Mr. Jahanbegloo has been jailed since late April after he was arrested at the Tehran airport.

"The United States is pursuing efforts to start soft revolution in Iran and in many other countries and Mr. Jahanbegloo's arrest can be defined as part of that," ISNA quoted Mr. Mohseni-Ejei as saying.

"Mr. Jahanbegloo had an assignment and the intelligence apparatus became suspicious at the scale of his activities and resources" at his disposal, he said.

Mr. Mohseni-Ejei said a decision on Mr. Jahanbegloo's case would be made after his interrogation was finished.

Mr. Jahanbegloo has been barred from access to a lawyer. Independent human rights groups have said his arrest was politically motivated.

Helene Cooper contributed reporting from Washington for this article.