Wed, Jul 12, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Iran disparages nuclear deadline

UN OPTIONS The West has made it clear that Iran's rejection of their nuclear offer would rekindle debate in the UN Security Council over the use of punitive measures

AGENCIES , BRUSSELS

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator deflected Western pressure for an immediate answer yesterday to a package of incentives to suspend uranium enrichment ahead of crucial talks with the EU.

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 US, 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 G8 industrialized 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."

The West has urged Iran to accept a package of technology, economic and political sweeteners before this Saturday's G8 meeting.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Washington it was time Iran gave an "authoritative answer" to the package, aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear program which the US suspects is aimed at acquiring the atom bomb.

The West has made it clear that a rejection of the offer would rekindle debate at the UN Security Council over what further measures to take against Iran.

But it is unclear exactly where this would lead, in particular since Russia and China, which have veto rights, have made it clear they oppose sanctions against Tehran.

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 yesterday.

"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 US, 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 US$0.50 to below US$74 a barrel on Monday on market expectations of progress this week.

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