Iran Nuclear NewsIran offer is negotiable if enrichment stops-Merkel

Iran offer is negotiable if enrichment stops-Merkel

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Reuters: Iran must halt enrichment work under an incentive package to end its nuclear dispute with the West, Germany said on Wednesday, and would then find the door open to negotiations on other terms of the offer. By Louis Charbonneau

BERLIN (Reuters) – Iran must halt enrichment work under an incentive package to end its nuclear dispute with the West, Germany said on Wednesday, and would then find the door open to negotiations on other terms of the offer.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana delivered the offer to Tehran on Tuesday, along with a delegation of senior officials from the “EU3” — France, Britain and Germany — and from Russia. Iran said it saw some positive aspects.

“This is an offer to kick off negotiations but there must first be a suspension of (enrichment) activities implemented by Iran,” Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters before a meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

“It is a broad and comprehensive offer. I believe it is a huge chance and I hope that we’ll do a bit of negotiating.”

The proposals, which have not been made public but include incentives and penalties, seek to persuade Iran to give up enriching uranium, which many countries fear will be used to build atomic bombs. Tehran says its nuclear aims are peaceful.

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said the offer contained some “positive steps” but complained that there were ambiguities that needed to be corrected.

Merkel urged the Iranians to consider the offer seriously, which she said was an opportunity to secure a peaceful resolution to the years-long nuclear standoff with Iran.

“I believe that it is a truly significant chance to resolve this conflict diplomatically. And everyone should be aware of his responsibility in this context,” she said.

Iranian officials said the incentives included access to aircraft parts needed to renovate its aging civilian airline fleet and the chance to purchase U.S. agricultural technology.

EU diplomats have said the package included an offer of light-water nuclear reactors and security guarantees.

Western diplomats said the United States was not expected to provide nuclear technology or equipment directly to Iran. Instead, Europeans and Russians would be the prime contractors.

WASHINGTON READY TO TALK WITH TEHRAN

President Bush said on Tuesday he was encouraged by Iran’s initial response though he tempered his remarks with caution.

“It sounds like a positive step to me,” Bush told reporters in Laredo, Texas. “I have said the United States will come and sit down at the table with them as long as they’re willing to suspend their enrichment in a verifiable way.”

Washington, which severed ties with Tehran in 1980, wants a diplomatic solution but has refused to rule out military action.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned against excessive optimism and said he expected a decision from Iran by the time the Group of Eight (G8) foreign ministers meet in Moscow at the end of June.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted by the Russian news agency RIA as saying that discussions on a U.N. Security Council resolution on Iran would be suspended while talks about the offer were underway.

Last week an EU diplomat involved in talks on the package offered to Iran said that Germany and the five permanent Security Council members — Russia, China, the United States, France and Britain — had agreed that Moscow and Beijing would not block U.N. sanctions but could abstain from imposing them.

Iranian officials have hinted Tehran might negotiate over its plans for industrial-scale enrichment but have insisted on keeping research and development activities without specifying how many centrifuges to enrich uranium that would require.

The dispute has rattled oil markets, particularly after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the highest authority in Iran, hinted Sunday that the world’s fourth largest oil exporter could use oil as a weapon in the dispute if pushed.

Crude prices eased below $72 a barrel on Wednesday but remain close to record highs.

(Additional reporting by the Moscow bureau)

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