The Guardian: Iran will today be given a month to accept a package of incentives in return for curbing its nuclear programme or face new sanctions, in an ultimatum to be presented in person by a team of international diplomats.
- Iran to be given a month to curb programme
Refusal could mean EU sanctions by end of July
Julian Borger, diplomatic editor
Iran will today be given a month to accept a package of incentives in return for curbing its nuclear programme or face new sanctions, in an ultimatum to be presented in person by a team of international diplomats.
The team arriving in Tehran this morning under the leadership of the EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, will include the political director of Britain's Foreign Office, Mark Lyall Grant, and his counterparts from Russia, China, France and Germany.
The US, the sixth member of the group negotiating with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, will not be represented. The Bush administration has said it will not enter into direct negotiations with Iran on the issue until Tehran complies with UN security council demands to suspend uranium enrichment.
However, the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, has jointly signed a letter with the foreign ministers of the five other nations to be handed to the Iranian government along with the negotiating package.
A senior British official said: "If they are serious about convincing the international community it is only interested in a peaceful programme, then it will suspend enrichment and reprocessing."
If Tehran refuses, the security council will begin talks on a fourth wave of sanctions, but more immediately the EU will impose its own measures. "I don't think we'd wait to begin the summer break. If there is not a response within a month, we'd look at our response," the British official said. "There will be further EU sanctions by the end of July."
Also hanging over today's talks is uncertainty over whether military action might be taken against Iran if it proceeds with its current nuclear programme. The British official, talking to journalists before the Tehran trip, said that all six members of the group, including the US, were committed to a diplomatic solution, but he added that if Iran continued to defy the security council "clearly there can be temptations to go the other way".
This week, George Bush once more refused to rule out the use of force, but he was mocked by Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who said: "Bush's time is up, and he was not able to harm even one centimetre of our land."
British officials remain confident that the Bush administration will not take military action before leaving office but warn Israel "may draw a different conclusion".
Israel's transport minister and former army chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz, has said publicly a strike on Iran may be "unavoidable".
Today's incentive package, offering help to establish Iran's nuclear programme and supply nuclear fuel, along with general economic benefits, differs little from one offered two years ago, which Iran turned down. Tehran insists it has a sovereign right to pursue a comprehensive nuclear programme, which it says is for purely peaceful purposes.
Western European and US officials have little confidence the offer will be accepted this time, but are hopeful that it will stir a debate among Iran's dominant conservatives over the rising economic costs of the nuclear programme.
They say the former chief negotiator, Ali Larijani, showed himself to be more pragmatic than his successor, Saeed Jalili. Since the March elections, in which he stood as an economic critic of Ahmadinejad, Larijani has emerged as parliamentary speaker, a powerful position. The delegation is due to meet Larijani, as well as Jalili and the foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki.
Unlike 2006, this time the incentives package, along with the accompanying letter, will be made public, in an attempt to appeal directly to Iranian public opinion. They are due to be published tomorrow.
British diplomats say both China and Russia insisted the offer to Iran be "refreshed" and presented once more before they agreed to intensified UN sanctions. However, there is no agreement among the security council's five permanent members over what further measures could be taken.
Iran is likely to take the threat of EU sanctions more seriously. Last week, EU member states agreed in principle to go further than existing UN sanctions on Iran, if today's offer is rejected. In particular, Italy dropped its objection to a freeze on the assets of Iran's biggest bank, Bank Melli.