New York Times: Iran formally responded Friday to an international proposal of incentives aimed at resolving the impasse over the country’s nuclear program, but failed to address the central issue of whether it would halt its uranium enrichment activities, according to officials involved in the diplomatic effort.
The New York Times
By ELAINE SCIOLINO
Published: July 5, 2008
PARIS — Iran formally responded Friday to an international proposal of incentives aimed at resolving the impasse over the country’s nuclear program, but failed to address the central issue of whether it would halt its uranium enrichment activities, according to officials involved in the diplomatic effort.
Instead, the response, in a letter by Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, said Iran would be willing to open a comprehensive negotiation with Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief, and the six world powers involved in confronting Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
It did not specifically address any of the proposals they presented to it last month.
“The time for negotiating from the condescending position of inequality has come to an end,” the Iranian response said, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under normal diplomatic rules.
It also criticized the United Nations Security Council sanctions against it as “illegal” and spoke of a “lack of trust” because of the “duplicitous behavior of certain big powers,” the officials said.
Iran’s response was handed to Mr. Solana’s office on Friday evening, according to Cristina Gallach, Mr. Solana’s spokesman.
But in their public statements on Friday, the governments involved declined to discuss the substance of the Iranian letter.
“We intend to study the Iranian response,” said Gordon D. Johndroe, deputy White House press secretary, in a statement. He said the United States would discuss the letter with the five other governments — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — “before responding formally.”
Similarly, a British Foreign Office official said, “We have received the Iranian response and we are consulting” with the other governments before responding.
Officials in Mr. Solana’s office also said there would be no immediate comment on the substance of the letter.
Still, some officials involved in the negotiations expressed disappointment. “There is nothing new in the response,” one said. Western officials have long contended that Iran wants to prolong the diplomatic back-and-forth so that it can continue its nuclear activities.
Another official said that there might have to be a positive spin by the six nations, simply because the Iranians had responded at all, without rejecting the incentives outright.
Russia and China have shown interest in pursuing some sort of negotiations with Iran even if it does not stop producing enriched uranium, as required by the United Nations Security Council.
The United States, France and Britain, by contrast, are eager to continue to press Iran with additional sanctions if it does not comply.
In late June, the European Union agreed to new sanctions on Iran that went beyond what the United Nations Security Council had mandated. Sixty-one Iranians or companies — all said to have links to Iran’s nuclear or ballistic missile programs — will now be subject to a European visa ban, a freeze on assets or both.
The Iranian letter noted that there were “certain similarities” — apparently a reference to points of agreement — between a letter Mr. Mottaki presented to the United Nations earlier this year and the one presented last month by the six powers. The new letter said that Saeed Jalaili, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, would lead the Iranian delegation.
Earlier on Friday, Mr. Jalili told Mr. Solana by telephone that Iran’s government had prepared its reply “with a focus on common ground and a constructive view,” Iranian state television said.
He also expressed the desire to meet Mr. Solana “rather soon” to continue talking, Ms. Gallach said.
Any compromise on the part of Iran regarding its nuclear program could help tamp down talk of an Israeli military attack against Iran.
Even the rumor of a positive response from Iran, OPEC’s second-largest oil producer, was enough to send crude oil prices down slightly on Friday.
In their proposal, the six powers left Iran room to maneuver with a timetable for start-up talks. Under their plan, preliminary talks would start with a mutual six-week “freeze,” in which the Security Council would not take more punitive action against Iran, and Iran would not expand its uranium enrichment program.
That could allow Iran to start negotiations about the future of its nuclear program while continuing to enrich uranium at current levels.
The Iranian letter of response did not address that approach, which has been called a “freeze-for-freeze.”