Reuters: President Bush said on Wednesday Iran was taking too long to respond to an offer of incentives to halt nuclear work that could lead to atomic weapons, and urged it to reply within weeks. By Steve Holland
VIENNA (Reuters) – President Bush said on Wednesday Iran was taking too long to respond to an offer of incentives to halt nuclear work that could lead to atomic weapons, and urged it to reply within weeks.
Responding to a suggestion by Iran that it would respond to the major powers’ proposals by August 22, Bush said: “It should not take the Iranians that long to analyze what is a reasonable deal. I said weeks, not months.”
Bush was speaking at a news conference in Vienna after a summit with leaders of the European Union which, together with Russia and China, has backed Bush in his drive to ensure Iran does not develop a nuclear arsenal.
Bush hoped in Vienna to ensure the threat of punishment such as U.N. sanctions remains strong if Iran does not abandon nuclear enrichment, a step in the production of nuclear arms, in return for the offer of incentives made on June 6.
“We have agreed that if Iran decides not to engage in negotiations, further steps would be taken in the Security Council. We urge Iran to take the positive path,” the EU and United States said in a joint statement after their talks.
Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, whose country holds the EU presidency, said: “It’s better we agree as soon as possible. Time is limited. We should not play with time.”
Six powers — the United States, Britain, Germany, France, China and Russia — have set an informal deadline of mid-July, when a Group of Eight industrial nations summit is planned.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said shortly before Bush spoke that Tehran would respond by August 22.
Western diplomats have said Iran’s hesitation to respond may be a stalling maneuver aimed at buying time to expand its nuclear fuel enrichment program and make it a fait accompli.
Diplomats said the delay was more a sign of debate within a complex Iranian power structure over how to respond. Iran, which has the second largest oil and gas reserves, says its drive to enrich uranium is solely to provide electricity for its economy.
“The problem is that it is very difficult for them to come to a final decision. The main problem is the consequences of this decision,” said Iranian political analyst Mahmoud Alinejad.
“It is clear that the leadership is not prepared to accept total suspension (of nuclear enrichment) and this is a position it is very difficult to walk back from,” he said.
Bush also warned North Korea against test-firing its long-range Taepodong-2 missile, saying it must abide by international agreements.
The EU said in a statement that such a test would be “deeply regrettable” and a provocative act.
“WHAT’S PAST IS PAST”
Bush and EU leaders, including European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, underlined the improvement in ties since strains that appeared over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
“I fully understand we have had our differences on Iraq. I can understand the difficulties but what’s past is past and what is ahead is a hopeful democracy in the Middle East,” Bush said.
Police said 6,000 people protested against Bush. They turned back an initial protest by students chanting “Shoot me dead, I’m not a terrorist” and “Bush go home”.
The summit touched on differences between the United States and Europe on the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba and U.S. visa requirements for many eastern European countries.
On Guantanamo, Schuessel welcomed a reiteration by Bush that he wanted to close the camp eventually but said “we can only have a victory in the fight against terror if we don’t undermine our common values.
On a row over global trade negotiations, both Bush and Barroso said they believed a successful deal was still possible, despite several missed deadlines.
“The point is we are committed to a successful round and it is going to take hard work,” Bush said.
The EU and Washington also expressed concern about “some recent developments” in Russia and vowed to work with Moscow to promote energy security, the application of the rule of law, an independent judiciary and full respect for human rights.