AP: Iran's new offer for talks with six world powers ignores their key demand of a freeze of Tehran's uranium enrichment program, according to a copy obtained Friday by The Associated Press, and instead amounts to a manifesto calling for a new international order. The Associated Press
By GEORGE JAHN
VIENNA (AP) — Iran's new offer for talks with six world powers ignores their key demand of a freeze of Tehran's uranium enrichment program, according to a copy obtained Friday by The Associated Press, and instead amounts to a manifesto calling for a new international order.
The five-page proposal, formally submitted Wednesday to the six nations trying to entice Iran to make nuclear concessions, says Tehran stands ready to "embark on comprehensive, all-encompassing and constructive negotiations."
"The difficult era characterized by the domination of empires, (and) predominance of military powers … is coming to an end," the Iranian document says.
Because it sidesteps the request from the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany for an enrichment freeze, the vaguely worded document — essentially a grandiose call to revamp the global landscape — fell short of demands by those six nations as the basis for a start to talks.
But in a surprise turn, the State Department announced Friday that the United States and its five partner countries would talk to Iran despite its insistence that its nuclear program was not negotiable.
Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters that although Iran's proposal for international talks was disappointing for sidestepping the nuclear issue, it represented a chance to begin a direct dialogue.
"We are seeking a meeting now based on the Iranian paper to see what Iran is prepared to do," Crowley said. "And then, as the president has said, you know, if Iran responds to our interest in a meeting, we'll see when that can occur. We hope that will occur as soon as possible."
Such a meeting could lessen immediate pressure on President Barack Obama to abandon his diplomatic outreach to Tehran, which has yet to yield concrete results. Obama said in July that Iran should show a willingness to negotiate limits on its nuclear program by September or face consequences.
Crowley stressed that the U.S. and its negotiating partners agree they must keep pressure on Iran while also seeking talks.
"Now we are willing to meet with Iran. We hope to meet with Iran," Crowley said. "We want to see serious engagement on the nuclear issue, in particular."
He added, "We are willing to address any other issues that they want to bring to the table. But, clearly, if Iran refuses to negotiate seriously, we — the United States and the international community and the Security Council — can draw conclusions from that. And then based on that, we'll make some judgments in the future."
The decision to take up Iran's offer was communicated publicly Friday in Brussels, Belgium, by Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief who is an intermediary for the six powers. They represent the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany.
"We are all committed to meaningful negotiations with Iran to resolve the international community's concerns about their nuclear program," Solana said in a brief written statement. He said his office was in contact with Iranian officials to arrange a meeting "at the earliest possible opportunity."
Crowley said there is no assumption that new talks with Iran will be productive. But the proposal made Wednesday by the Iranian government indicated at least a new willingness to engage diplomatically, he said.
The willingness to talk with Iran gave the U.S. and its Western allies some breathing space in their efforts to present a unified front with Russia and China on how to deal with Tehran's nuclear defiance.
Along with Germany, the U.S., France and Britain — the three western permanent U.N. Security Council members — have warned of a possible fourth set of U.N. Security Council sanctions on Tehran for defying council demands that it suspend enrichment and heed other calls meant to reduce suspicions it is trying to make nuclear arms.
But Russia and China — the other permanent council members — are leery of new sanctions, with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin restating his opposition Friday. The decision to talk to Iran without preconditions appeared to be at least in part an attempt to preserve six-power unity in dealing with Tehran.
Still, said diplomats, Washington and key EU countries are already working on imposing additional penalties of their own, should any new talks fail and if the council remains divided.
Along with further tightening banking and other economic restrictions on Iranian entities, the West is considering embargoes on gasoline sales on Iran, whose creaky refinery network cannot produce enough for domestic consumption — even at the risk of provoking a ban by Tehran on oil sales to the West.
Iran already appears to be bracing for new penalties.
Iranian state TV reported earlier this month that Tehran has signed a deal with Venezuela for the export of 20,000 barrels per day of gasoline to Iran.
The agreement was signed during a visit by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who pledged to deepen ties with Iran and stand together against what he called the imperialist powers of the world.
Iran is vulnerable in its dependence on fuel imports. Despite its substantial oil resources, it lacks the refinery capacity to meet its own demand and must buy vast quantities of commercial-ready fuel on the open market.
In making a renewed offer to talk with Iran last year, the six offered a range of enticements, "as long as Iran verifiably suspends its enrichment-related and reprocessing activities."
These included help in developing a peaceful nuclear program, improved political and trade ties and a "reaffirmation … to refrain … from the threat or use of force" against any country — essentially a veiled security assurance meant to ease Iranian fears of possible a U.S. military attack.
Instead of a direct response to that offer, the Iranian paper, shared with the AP by a member nation of the International Atomic Energy Agency, suggests that the superpower era is fading, in an indirect slap at the U.S.
"These mechanisms … are the direct products of retaliations based on brute power and domination, while our world today needs mechanisms that come from divine and godly thinking and an approach based on human values and compassion," the document says.
From Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei down, senior officials consistently rule out freezing enrichment and dismiss international concerns that the activity is meant to give the country the means of making the material for nuclear warheads. Instead, they say it is geared strictly toward creating nuclear fuel.
On Monday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his country will neither halt uranium enrichment nor negotiate over its nuclear rights but is ready to sit and talk with world powers over "global challenges."
In a rehash of previous Iranian visions outlined by Ahmadinejad and others, the Iranian offer links any talks with a discussion of Middle East tensions "to help the people of Palestine achieve all-embracing peace."
It calls for a a "reform" of the U.N. Security Council — shorthand for curbing the authority of the U.S. and the four other permanent council members. And in the only link to the arms issue it couples "preventing development and proliferation of nuclear … weapons" to disarmament by the world nuclear powers.
AP National Security Writer Robert Burns contributed to this report from Washington.