Thursday, July 06, 2006

Iran keeps world guessing on nuclear answer

Parisa Hafezi, Reuters:
Iran kept a frustrated world guessing about its response to proposals aimed at defusing a standoff over its nuclear program on Thursday when Tehran's chief negotiator met the European Union's foreign policy chief.

Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, told reporters he would give a preliminary response next week to a package of economic, technological and political incentives designed to entice Iran to halt uranium enrichment.

"We are serious about continuing negotiations and will start next Tuesday with talks," he told reporters on meeting EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana in Brussels. The two men are due to meet again next week. READ MORE

Pressed to say if he had brought with him an initial answer to the major powers' package, which Solana delivered to Tehran on June 6, Larijani said: "We will talk about it on Tuesday."

U.N. nuclear watchdog head Mohamed ElBaradei earlier warned Iran the world was running out of patience because it had not replied to the proposals.

"The Iranian counterpart authorities told me that they need some time to provide the response," ElBaradei, who heads the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told reporters in Ankara after talks with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

"I think they need to make sure that everybody in Iran is on board. But by saying that I hope that Iran also understands that the international community is getting somewhat impatient. The earlier they can provide an answer is better for everybody."

The United States has accused Iran of having a secret program to build nuclear weapons. Iran, the world's fourth largest oil exporter, denies the charge and says its nuclear program is solely for power generation.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack kept up the drumbeat of pressure for a swift response, telling reporters in Washington: "They've had plenty of time to consider the offer. It's high time that they provide an answer. And we would hope that today is the day that they provide a positive answer."


Major powers have said they want a reply from Tehran by a July 15 Group of Eight (G8) summit in St. Petersburg at the latest. Tehran says it will not give its answer before August 22.

Iran postponed talks with Solana in Brussels on Wednesday in apparent anger at an exiled opposition leader's visit to the European parliament, but Larijani said he had agreed to meet Solana for a private dinner on Thursday "out of respect".

Solana said the process was beneficial to both sides.

McCormack said foreign ministers of the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, Germany and the European Union would meet next Wednesday to discuss negative steps against Iran if it did not give a clear answer before then.

But diplomats say that since Russia and China are unlikely to back any U.N. sanctions against Iran at this stage, there is little pressure on Tehran to respond either at the Brussels talks or before the G8 summit in Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin urged Tehran to speed up its reply on Thursday but said talk of sanctions was premature.

"To wait endlessly is counter-productive, but it would be more counter-productive to drive this problem into a dead-end and that is why I would not speak about sanctions at the moment," Putin said in an Internet broadcast in Russia.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Wednesday: "(If Iran is) trying to stall, it's not going to work."

The five permanent, veto-wielding U.N. Security Council members -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- plus Germany have offered Iran a state-of-the-art nuclear reactor with a guaranteed fuel supply, economic benefits and support for the idea of a regional security framework if it halts uranium enrichment.

(Additional reporting by Zerin Elci in Ankara, Oliver Bullough in Moscow, Carol Giacomo in Washington and Mark John in Brussels)