Iran Nuclear NewsIran open to incentives on nuclear talks, with a...

Iran open to incentives on nuclear talks, with a hedge


New York Times: Iran on Tuesday welcomed an array of international incentives aimed at persuading the country to freeze crucial nuclear activities, but stressed that there were issues that needed to be resolved before any agreement could be reached.
The New York Times


TEHRAN, June 6 — Iran on Tuesday welcomed an array of international incentives aimed at persuading the country to freeze crucial nuclear activities, but stressed that there were issues that needed to be resolved before any agreement could be reached.

“We had constructive talks,” Ali Larijani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, told state television after meeting with Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief. “The proposals contain positive steps and also some ambiguities which should be removed.”

He did not elaborate on the ambiguities. But officials with knowledge of the talks in Tehran said they centered on Iran’s insistence that it will continue its production of enriched uranium, which can be used to make electricity or weapons.

The offer made by the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany requires Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment and reprocessing or face an array of possible penalties.

Mr. Larijani is seeking clarifications over the terms, timing and duration of the suspension, the officials added, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to divulge details.

Clearly both sides were on their best behavior and determined to nudge each other back to the negotiating table. “Neither side wanted to push the other to the brink today,” said one senior Iranian official. “There was no real change in the position of either side, but both sides stressed their points of commonality and not their points of contention.”

Mr. Solana, who was accompanied by the political directors of the foreign ministries of France, Britain, Germany and Russia, was also cautiously upbeat after he emerged from the glittery headquarters of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. “The proposal is on the table now,” he said before flying to Germany. He added, “We hope that Iranian officials will examine all the aspects carefully, avoid hasty reaction, and reflect on their opinion afterwards.”

The package, agreed on in Vienna on Friday, includes specific rewards to Iran like new commercial planes and light-water nuclear reactors if it suspends enrichment and reprocessing activities while talks over the deal are continuing, the officials said. But it does not say just how long the suspension would last, they added.

The United States gave crucial heft to the package by offering to remove certain economic sanctions against Iran that date from more than two decades ago, and to talk directly with Iran if the country agrees to an enrichment freeze.

In Laredo, Tex., President Bush was also upbeat, saying that remarks by Iranian officials sound “like a positive response to me.” He repeated his new offer for the United States to “sit down at the table” with the Iranians, but only if “they are willing to suspend their enrichment in a verifiable way.”

Several weeks ago, the administration rejected entreaties by the other powers to give Iran explicit security guarantees that the United States would not intervene politically or militarily in Iran’s internal affairs, senior officials involved in the negotiations said. The United States has not ruled out military action against Iran.

Instead, it has committed itself in the incentives package only to support the creation of a vague regional forum to discuss issues of mutual concern, officials said.

The Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, also welcomed the initiative and said after a separate meeting with Mr. Solana that the talks had “ushered in a new prospect,” according to Iran’s official IRNA news agency.

But he characterized Iran’s enrichment program as solely designed for “research,” suggesting that it must be allowed. “What is important in giving the incentives is supporting Iran’s rights on research in technology,” he said. “This issue should be very clear and without any ambiguity in the negotiations.”

Iran is still continuing to enrich uranium at its vast site at Natanz, and Mr. Solana told the Iranians they had only “weeks” to decide whether to accept the offer, officials said.

However, he has not ruled out another meeting or even another trip to Iran, the officials added.

Mr. Larijani indicated that the Iranian side was in no rush to decide, saying, “We hope, after we study the proposal in detail, we will have another round of talks and negotiations to reach a balanced and logical conclusion.”

Still, it was striking that both sides characterized the talks in positive terms. And in his brief but temperate public response, Mr. Larijani did not repeat Iran’s longstanding position that it would never relinquish what it considers its sovereign right to nuclear energy, nor did he automatically reject any demand for a freeze on its enrichment-related activities.

The crisis over Iran’s nuclear program, which Iran insists is for peaceful purposes, reached new urgency in April after Iran announced it had enriched uranium to the low levels needed to fuel a nuclear reactor. But Iran has run into technical difficulties and has made little progress since then, which may make it more willing to slow its program.

France, Germany and Britain announced after the collapse of their 2004 agreement with Iran to freeze its nuclear-related activities that they would be willing to engage in new talks only if Iran returned to a complete freeze of uranium enrichment at Natanz.

The United States is demanding that all enrichment-related activities be suspended before any negotiations start.

So it is unclear what exactly would constitute “negotiations” and whether the Iranians will use talks with Mr. Solana as a way to continue their enrichment activities while seeking even more concessions.

Iran has offered to freeze plans for large-scale enrichment of uranium, which it probably is not technically capable of carrying out. It has tried repeatedly during the negotiations that started in 2003 to continue what it has called “research” involving a limited number of fast-spinning centrifuge machines.

“The trick is to get into a dialogue,” said one senior European diplomat involved in the discussions. “Both sides have preconditions for talks and we have to find a way out. We have been asking for suspension of all enrichment-related activities as a precondition for negotiations and that is exactly what they said they cannot do.”

Nazila Fathi reported from Tehran for this article, and Elaine Sciolino from Paris.

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