Friday, September 15, 2006

Bush Worried Iran Stalling on Nuclear

Caren Bohan and Mark John, Reuters:
President Bush raised concerns on Friday that Iran was playing for time in a dispute over its nuclear program, but the European official leading talks with Tehran spoke of progress.

Bush, who will travel to New York next week for meetings at the United Nations, said he would insist on the need to stay firm in the bid to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

"My concern is that they'll stall, they'll try to wait us out. So part of my objective in New York is to remind people that stalling shouldn't be allowed -- we need to move the process," Bush told a news conference in Washington. READ MORE

"Should they choose to verifiably suspend their ... enrichment program, we'll come to the table," Bush said. "The offer still stands," he said of a package of trade and other incentives for Iran to curb sensitive nuclear activities.

Minutes earlier EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, the official negotiating with Iran over the offer on behalf of the major powers, gave his most upbeat assessment of the talks yet.

"I can say honestly that we're making progress. It doesn't mean that everything has been solved. That would be an exaggeration, but we are really making progress," he told a news conference after briefing EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

"I don't think our American friends will be losing their patience," he said. "We are in the same boat. I am representing them. I am representing all the members of the Security Council. I am representing also the European Union, and I don't have a sense of losing patience."

Solana did not give details of his talks with chief nuclear Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani, but France confirmed that Larijani told Solana in Vienna last weekend that Tehran was ready to discuss suspending its uranium enrichment program.

"Iran ... has accepted to talk about the question of suspension. That for us is a positive development," a foreign ministry spokesman told a news briefing in Paris.

The process of uranium enrichment can be used for making an atom bomb, an objective which major oil-exporter Iran denies, insisting it wants a nuclear program to generate electricity.


Solana said he and Larijani agreed to postpone a new meeting planned on Thursday because Larijani needed more time to build consensus in Tehran on the terms for launching negotiations with the major powers.

"Of course there is a sense of urgency," said Solana of his talks with Larijani. "We have agreed among ourselves they will not last for ever. That is not our idea."

Tehran ignored an August 31 Security Council deadline to halt sensitive nuclear work but President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad struck a softer tone on Thursday, saying Iran was ready for "new conditions."

Washington is pushing for major powers to begin work on readying sanctions against Iran if there is no breakthrough soon. But Russia and China and a number of European nations are wary of such a move and want to pursue the dialogue with Tehran.

The United Nations has demanded that Iran suspend uranium enrichment as a condition for opening talks on a package of incentives including civil nuclear cooperation.

Solana said the definition of a suspension of enrichment was one of the outstanding issues, although not the only one.

He added that EU and Iranian officials were meeting every day to work on remaining issues and that he hoped to meet Larijani in the coming days.

(Additional reporting by Paul Taylor in Brussels, Francois Murphy in Paris)