Reuters: The European Union said on Friday Iran had to choose between EU assistance for peaceful development of nuclear power or tougher sanctions if it failed to abandon its suspected atomic weapons programme. By Anna Ringstrom and Simon Johnson
STOCKHOLM, Sept 4 (Reuters) – The European Union said on Friday Iran had to choose between EU assistance for peaceful development of nuclear power or tougher sanctions if it failed to abandon its suspected atomic weapons programme.
"If they are ready to engage with us, we are ready to cooperate with them. If they decide to go for confrontation, then confrontation will happen," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country holds the EU presidency, told reporters.
"We have a very generous offer on the table. We want cooperation with Iran on quite a number of things including the development of civilian nuclear technology," he told reporters at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Stockholm.
On Thursday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed any threat of new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme, a day after world powers pressed Tehran to meet them this month for talks on the nuclear dispute.
Other Iranian officials said separately Iran would soon put forward its own "package", referring to unspecified proposals to world powers, which Tehran has talked about for months as a way to help resolve international issues of contention.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who has led Western negotiating efforts with Iran, said he had yet to see the proposals. "Let's see when we see it," he said.
Solana said he had not been told by the Iranians when to expect the document but hoped to speak to them in coming hours.
Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb said he hoped Iran would respond to overtures from U.S. President Barack Obama.
"Obama has set a deadline for discussions with Iran … if we get no progress in the negotiations on nuclear proliferation then there will be more sanctions — it's quite clear."
Stubb said North Korea's announcement on Friday that it had successfully tested uranium enrichment, taking it closer to a second way of making nuclear weapons, added to the urgency.
"We all know that parts of the world … the Middle East, Persia (Iran), and then parts of Asia, including North Korea, are probably the most dangerous places in the world right now.
"The news that we got from North Korea is not going to facilitate things, that's for sure," he said.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said North Korea's announcement showed the urgent need for a united international response to prevent proliferation of atomic arms.
"It shows that 2009 and 2010 are the years when the Non-Proliferation Treaty is being tested as never before and when there needs to be extra drive from all of us," he said.
Obama has given Iran until this month to take up an offer by six world powers of talks on trade if it shelves nuclear enrichment, or face harsher penalties.
Iran, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, has rejected demands to halt uranium enrichment, which can have both civilian and military purposes. Tehran says it is for peaceful power generation but the West believes it is aimed at making bombs.
On Wednesday, Germany hosted a meeting of officials from the six powers — including also the United States, Russia, France, Britain and China — to discuss Iran's nuclear programme.
Berlin said it expected Iran to respond to the powers' offer of talks by agreeing to meet before the annual U.N. General Assembly meeting later this month.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said France had been attempting to talk to Iran for three years, without success, but would keep trying.
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili was quoted by state television on Tuesday as saying Iran was ready to talk to the major powers and that Tehran had prepared "an updated nuclear proposal", without giving details of its content.
Another senior official suggested any such talks would not address the Islamic state's nuclear work, but instead focus on international and regional issues. (Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Julien Toyer)