New York Times: Iran has begun a public campaign that appears to be aimed at nudging the six nations that have offered a package of incentives into negotiations over its nuclear program without first freezing its efforts to make nuclear fuel. The New York Times
By ELAINE SCIOLINO
PARIS, June 11 Iran has begun a public campaign that appears to be aimed at nudging the six nations that have offered a package of incentives into negotiations over its nuclear program without first freezing its efforts to make nuclear fuel.
Iran’s potential negotiating partners the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany have demanded that it suspend its uranium-enrichment and reprocessing activities before they meet formally to discuss a package of economic and political incentives. But on a hastily planned trip to Cairo, apparently to drum up international support for Iran’s stand, Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator rejected any preconditions for opening negotiations over the fate of its nuclear program.
In the clearest response from Iranian officials to the incentives package, Ali Larijani, the chief negotiator, told reporters on Sunday, “We have already said that we would not accept any preconditions and that we are supporting negotiations without prior conditions.” He said he “made that point clear” when Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, formally presented the package in Tehran last Tuesday.
In a sense, Mr. Larijani and other Iranian officials who have spoken publicly about the still-secret incentives package, have started negotiating on their own, and seem to be daring the other side to respond.
The six powers have resisted, except to urge Iran’s leaders to accept what they describe as a generous offer that includes the lure of light-water nuclear reactors and airplanes and badly needed spare parts, as well as direct talks with the United States if Iran freezes certain nuclear activities.
“We are following the public comments but will not respond until an official response to the package comes directly from Iran’s leadership,” said Cristina Gallach, Mr. Solana’s spokeswoman, via telephone from Brussels.
On the day he received the package from Mr. Solana, Mr. Larijani spoke of unspecified “ambiguities” in it that “should be removed.” Then one of Iran’s most strident clerics, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, declared on Friday that Iran would never freeze its nuclear activities.
On Saturday, Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said Iran would give the six nations its own amendments or counterproposal.
At his regular Sunday news conference in Tehran, Hamidreza Assefi, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said that the package included “points that are ambiguous, points that are acceptable, points that should be strengthened and points that perhaps should not be there,” the INSA news agency reported.
This week, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will be in China, where he is expected to present Iran’s position to Chinese officials and perhaps speak publicly about it.
The 35-country board of the International Atomic Energy Agency is to meet this week in Vienna. Though no major initiative on Iran is planned, Iran’s nuclear program is certain to be discussed.
But Mr. Larijani is the official responsible for nuclear matters, and his statements carry considerable weight. In his remarks on Sunday, which were made in Persian and translated into Arabic and then into English, he reiterated that the package contained “strong points,” but also “weak and ambiguous points.”
Mr. Larijani also disclosed other details about the package and Iran’s reaction to them. He confirmed that the package included an offer to provide Iran with nuclear reactors, but no specific reference of sanctions if Iran refused to suspend enrichment.
“There were no sanctions whatsoever in the offer we received,” he said. “If there had been mention of the word ‘sanctions’ or ‘punishment,’ we would not have accepted it because if they chose the direction of punishment, that would block the way to negotiations.”
Senior officials in the delegation to Iran, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the negotiations, confirmed that no sanctions were threatened and that the package only referred to possible disincentives.
Calling Iran “an honorable, respectable regional power,” Mr. Larijani also said Iran was willing to discuss “security arrangements” with the six nations to contribute to regional stability. But the United States has already rejected the inclusion of government-to-government talks about security guarantees for Iran or regional security issues in the incentives package.
Mr. Larijani also said there was a “misconception” that Iran had been given a deadline to respond to the package. “This is not correct,” he said. “There is no such thing as a deadline or time frame.”
Mr. Solana did not give the Iranians a deadline, except to ask for it “in weeks.”
“It was not conveyed as a deadline,” said one official directly involved in the talks in Tehran. “The message was that they should reflect and not answer hastily.”
The two sides agreed that Iran would give a response but not necessarily a final acceptance or rejection before June 29, European and Iranian officials said. That is when the foreign ministers from the Group of 8 industrialized nations meet in Moscow.
Nazila Fathi contributed reporting from Tehran for this article, and Abeer Allam from Cairo.