Reuters: President George W. Bush said on Thursday he would consider providing incentives to Iran if it agreed to abandon nuclear enrichment activities that the United States believes is aimed at producing a nuclear bomb. By Carol Giacomo and Caren Bohan
WASHINGTON, May 25 (Reuters) – President George W. Bush said on Thursday he would consider providing incentives to Iran if it agreed to abandon nuclear enrichment activities that the United States believes is aimed at producing a nuclear bomb.
Bush called a recent letter from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — the first publicly announced official Tehran-Washington communication since the 1979 Islamic revolution — “interesting.”
But Bush, at a White House news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, stressed that the Iranian leader “didn’t address the issue of whether or not they’re going to continue to press for a nuclear weapon. That’s the issue at hand.”
Iran, the world’s fourth largest oil-producer, says it has a right to a nuclear program, and denies U.S. accusations it is trying to build an atomic bomb. It says it only wants to enrich uranium to a level suitable for use in nuclear power reactors.
Major power foreign ministers are to meet next week in Europe to complete work on a package of incentives and sanctions designed to present Iran with a stark choice if it continues sensitive nuclear activities like enrichment.
Bush said he and Blair spent a lot of time discussing strategy on the nuclear crisis and how to persuade partners like Russia that the issue must be acted on by the U.N. Security Council if Iran remains defiant.
“The Iranians walked away from the table. They’re the ones who made the decision, and the choice is theirs. If they would like to see an enhanced package, the first thing they’ve got to do is suspend their operations, for the good of the world,” Bush said.
Meanwhile, “we’ve got to continue to work to convince them that we’re serious, that if they want to be isolated from the world, we will work to … achieve that,” Bush said.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the foreign ministers’ meeting would “likely be in Europe and likely be at the end of next week.” Diplomats said Paris may be the venue.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troubleshooter Igor Ivanov will travel this week to Iran for nuclear-related talks, Russian news agencies reported.
OFFER CALLED FRAGILE
Russia is the only major power cooperating with Iran’s nuclear programs — it is building a power reactor at Bushehr
— and its role is critical to whether diplomacy can succeed.
A European diplomat said Russia, which has resisted threatening Iran with penalties, has not formally accepted the sanctions part of the package but “they are working with us on that.”
Senior officials from U.N. Security Council permanent members China, Russia, the United States, France and Britain, plus Germany had met in London to narrow divisions over how to deal with Tehran but have revealed few details.
Diplomats described the evolving offer as fragile and said participants agreed not to talk publicly while they worked out remaining issues.
The package would offer Iran a light-water reactor, nuclear fuel from abroad, a regional security dialogue that includes the United States and other inducements if Iran abandons weapons-related activities, diplomats said.
The package also includes targeted sanctions, like visa bans and asset freezes on top officials, if Iran defies international demands,
Russia and China, both veto-holding Security Council members, have opposed the idea of imposing sanctions on Iran.
Many European and U.S. officials and analysts have said efforts to end the crisis could be helped if Washington began talking to Tehran after 26 years of official silence.
There have been recent overtures from Iranian officials about talks but the administration has rejected them and Bush did not respond directly when asked at the news conference about “back channel” contacts.