New York Times: President Bush accused Iran on Saturday of rejecting a new set of incentives to stop enriching uranium, only hours after the proposal received a cold shoulder when it was delivered by Western diplomats in Tehran.
The New York Times
By STEVEN ERLANGER and ELAINE SCIOLINO
Published: June 15, 2008
PARIS — President Bush accused Iran on Saturday of rejecting a new set of incentives to stop enriching uranium, only hours after the proposal received a cold shoulder when it was delivered by Western diplomats in Tehran.
“I am disappointed that the leaders rejected this generous offer out of hand,” Mr. Bush said during a joint news conference here with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France. “It is an indication to the Iranian people that their leadership is willing to isolate them further. Our view is we want the Iranian people to flourish and to benefit.”
Tehran did not formally reject the offer, meaning that it may be able, as Western officials fear, to play for time, saying that it is in an ongoing dialogue with the West while continuing to enrich uranium to secure the amounts necessary to build a nuclear bomb.
But the response, in the waning days of Mr. Bush’s presidency, was far from warm. The new package was handed to the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, by the European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana. Mr. Mottaki said that Iran’s response would depend on how the West responded to Iran’s May 13 proposal calling for international talks on all issues and improved international inspection of Iran’s nuclear facilities. But Iran’s proposal does not mention the key Western demand — that Iran stop enriching uranium.
But before Mr. Bush spoke, an Iranian government spokesman, Gholamhossein Elham, made it clear in Tehran that stopping enrichment was unacceptable. “If the package includes suspension it is not debatable at all.” Mr. Elham said. “Iran’s view is clear: any precondition is unacceptable.”
Both Mr. Bush and Mr. Sarkozy emphasized that current and future economic sanctions on the people of Iran were the fault of the Tehran government’s insistence on enriching uranium in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, and that the West should not be blamed for the economic pain.
The French and Americans presumed in advance that their new proposal of incentives — a negotiated gesture to Russia and China for their support of earlier Security Council sanctions — would be brushed aside by Tehran, officials and diplomats said, insisting on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Mr. Bush has previously said that an Iranian nuclear weapon is “insupportable” and that all options, including military strikes, remain available.
But Mr. Bush and the Europeans who formally made the offer want to show that all efforts at dialogue are being taken, and they are hoping to ensure that ordinary Iranians can have access to the full text of the offer.
A copy of the two-part document was made available to The New York Times.
Mr. Sarkozy, who has strongly supported Washington on the Iran nuclear issue, used language harsher than Mr. Bush’s. An Iranian nuclear bomb would be “a menace unacceptable for the stability of the world,” Mr. Sarkozy said, appealing to the Iranians to show good faith, allow full international inspections and accept the offer of civilian nuclear power if they stopped their own enrichment program.
“Iran has the right like all countries in the world to have civil nuclear power and we are ready to help them,” he said. “If they have nothing to hide, they should show it.”
The offer to Iran by the world’s six major powers, including the United States, was a sweetened version of a rejected June 2006 offer. It promises “direct dialogue and contact” with Iran if it freezes crucial nuclear activities and “dialogue and cooperation on nonproliferation, regional security and stabilization issues.”
To show solidarity, Mr. Solana was accompanied on his trip to Iran by the political directors of the Foreign Ministries of France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China. Washington has no diplomatic relations with Iran and did not send a representative.
The United States has refused to negotiate directly with Iran until it suspends enrichment, but it has also promised a full regional dialogue with Iran, which would include Iraq, Syria and Middle East peace, if enrichment stops. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said of the Iranian government: “We would be willing to meet with them but not while they continue to inch toward nuclear weapons under the cover of talks.”
Should Iran accept it, the new proposal is based on a timetable for negotiations. Talks would start with a six-week mutual “freeze” period to establish the good will of both sides, according to the text.
The six world powers “will refrain from any new action in the Security Council,” while Iran “will refrain from any new nuclear activity, including the installation of any new centrifuges,” the fast-spinning machines that enrich uranium.
The timetable was first proposed to Iran in early May 2007, but its precise details had not previously been made public.
As before, the new proposal recognizes Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear energy. It pledges to support construction of modern light-water reactors, to arrange for the timely provision of enriched fuel and to cooperate in trade, energy, agriculture, the environment and civil aviation.
But with Russia and China reluctant to endorse harsher sanctions against Iran, and with oil prices at record levels, assuaging the pain of Iran’s damaged economy, Western officials are examining other punitive moves against Iran that could be taken by a “coalition of the willing” outside the United Nations.
Officials would not provide details, but analysts suggest those could include a naval embargo of the Persian Gulf or the refusal to supply Western-made technology required for Iran’s oil industry, creating bottlenecks in Iran’s oil production.
But even these measures would take months to negotiate and put in place.
In the meantime, Iran is thought to be waiting out the Bush administration, with a new president bound to spend months in a policy review of Iran that it hopes could produce a less conditioned dialogue than Mr. Bush has been willing to allow.
The offer and an accompanying letter signed by Mr. Solana and five foreign ministers, including Ms. Rice, mentioned no new punitive measures against Iran, but concentrates on incentives. The letter praises Iran as a great civilization, but warns that “Iran’s relationship with the international community has been overshadowed by growing tension and mistrust, since there remains a lack of confidence in Iran’s nuclear program.”
In Paris, Mr. Bush and Mr. Sarkozy both urged Syria to break with Iran and re-establish peaceful diplomatic relations with Lebanon’s government.
France has reached out to Syria, to invite it to a new Union of the Mediterranean that France intends to establish during its European Union presidency.
Mr. Bush was blunt, telling Syria to “stop fooling around with the Iranians and stop harboring terrorists” and to stop supporting radical Islamic groups like Hamas and Hezbollah that use violence to destabilize the peace process and Lebanon itself.
Mr. Sarkozy said that Syria was a Mediterranean country and that if France started “picking and choosing” whom to invite to the new union, very few would attend — another way for him to defend his invitation to Israel, which is causing problems for some Arab states.
Steven Lee Myers contributed reporting.