Iran Nuclear NewsIran has only weeks to respond to atomic offer,...

Iran has only weeks to respond to atomic offer, says US

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Daily Telegraph: Iran has just a few weeks to freeze its controversial uranium enrichment programme or face international sanctions, a senior Bush administration official said yesterday. The Daily Telegraph

By Alec Russell in London

Iran has just a few weeks to freeze its controversial uranium enrichment programme or face international sanctions, a senior Bush administration official said yesterday.

John Bolton, America’s hawkish ambassador to the UN, said America and its allies expected an Iranian response to its “carrots and sticks” offer before the G8 summit of industrialised nations next month.

This was the first time a senior US official has indicated a deadline for Iran to comply. In the last few months, Bush administration officials have tried to mollify Washington’s many critics by stressing their desire to give Iran every opportunity possible to back down.

In the most striking gesture of conciliation yet last week, Washington agreed to end America’s 25-year freeze on talks with Iran, as part of an offer of incentives designed to defuse the crisis.

Yesterday, however, as Iranian officials confirmed that they had stepped up their nuclear activities, Mr Bolton indicated that patience would soon run out.

“The longer it [the negotiations”> takes the greater the likelihood they [the Iranians”> will achieve what they want to achieve,” he said. “It has dragged out a long time as the EU negotiations have unfolded and that hasn’t left us in a better position.”

Speaking to newspapers including The Daily Telegraph, in London, Mr Bolton also made clear that America has ruled out guaranteeing not to use force against Iran’s nuclear sites. “They [security guarantees”> are not on the table. Don’t even think about it,” he said.

Asked what the world was waiting for from Teheran, Mr Bolton said: “I bet there is a word in Farsi [the Persian language”> for yes”.

Overall Mr Bolton was noticeably less belligerent than in Mr Bush’s first term, reflecting the shift in power in Washington towards more doveish officials.

He would not be drawn on whether Russia had agreed to sign up to imposing sanctions if Iran refused to freeze its uranium enrichment programme. Diplomats anticipate that overcoming Russian objections to sanctions is the next big challenge in the crisis.

Mr Bolton was sceptical of pronouncements from Iran indicating that it was considering accepting the offer of incentives delivered this week.

“Of course Iran would like to talk to the United States,” he said. “So newspaper headlines that say, ‘Encouraging signs that Iran wants to negotiate’ [are like”> ‘Dog bites man’.

“The issue is whether they want to meet the preconditions. That’s why we are not going to take interim comments as a definitive response.”

Asked if the Iranians wanted a deal, he said: “Some people thought for three years they’ve wanted to do a deal and there is no deal out there. It may be the deal they want is the best of both worlds. That’s why the current offer gives them a stark choice.”

He said that America believed the Iranians were stepping up their enrichment programme with “both feet on the accelerator”.

A leaked report from the International Atomic Energy Agency said that Iran resumed its nuclear activity this week on the eve of its receipt of the international incentives.

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