Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Iran Deflects Deadline at EU Nuclear Talks

The Financial Times:
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator deflected Western pressure for an immediate answer on Tuesday to a package of incentives to suspend uranium enrichment ahead of crucial talks with the European Union. Ali Larijani told reporters on his way to a meeting with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana: "We have expressed our view regarding the deadline. We are not used to acting before thinking."

The United States, which accuses Tehran of secretly working to build nuclear weapons, has said it wants a clear Iranian response to the proposals delivered by Solana on June 6 before next weekend's Group of Eight industrialised nations summit in Russia.

Iran has said it will reply by late August. A high-ranking Iranian diplomat accompanying Larijani said: "Iranians do not accept anything called a deadline." READ MORE

The West has urged Iran to accept a package of technology, economic and political sweeteners before Saturday's G8 meeting or face possible U.N. Security Council action.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Washington it was time Iran gave an "authoritative answer" to the package, aimed at curbing an Iranian nuclear programme which the United States suspects is aimed at acquiring the atom bomb.

But diplomats say Russia and China, both veto-holders in the Security Council, are wary about imposing sanctions on Tehran and so acknowledge there is little pressure on Iran to give an early reply.


Iran said on Sunday that Solana had not answered all of its questions about what it called ambiguities in the package when he had a two-hour meeting with Larijani last Thursday.

"We will only discuss questions and ambiguities regarding the offer," an Iranian official said on Monday, adding that a final response was "very unlikely" even if Solana answered all their queries on the package presented five weeks ago.

The EU, which had described last week's meeting as a good start, brushed off the remarks and said it still wanted a "substantive response" from Larijani on Tuesday.

"We will continue to discuss with Larijani, with the aim of getting from Iran their response to the proposals," said Solana's spokeswoman Cristina Gallach.

The talks come a day before a meeting in Paris of foreign ministers from the five permanent members of the Security Council -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- and Germany, the six powers behind the incentives offer.

The package includes a state-of-the-art nuclear reactor with a guaranteed fuel supply, economic benefits and other incentives if it halts uranium enrichment.

Iran, the world's fourth largest oil exporter, rejects charges it seeks a nuclear weapon and argues it is solely interested in electricity generation.

Despite Tehran's insistence it wants more time to study the offer, oil dropped nearly 50 cents to below a barrel on Monday on expectations of progress this week.