Iran Nuclear NewsIran responds to international nuclear offer

Iran responds to international nuclear offer

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AFP: Iran delivered its response Tuesday to a deal aimed at ending a nuclear standoff but it has already signalled it was likely to defy the international community and refuse to freeze sensitive atomic work. by Hiedeh Farmani

TEHRAN, Aug 22, 2006 (AFP) – Iran delivered its response Tuesday to a deal aimed at ending a nuclear standoff but it has already signalled it was likely to defy the international community and refuse to freeze sensitive atomic work.

Top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani delivered Tehran’s written response shortly after 1315 GMT to representatives of the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany which drew up the incentives package.

But details on the response were not immediately available.

Ayatollah Ali Khammenei, who has the last word on all key policy issues, had said Monday that Iran was determined to press ahead with its nuclear programme despite an August 31 UN Security Council deadline to suspend uranium enrichment.

“Iran will give a response that will provide Europe with an exceptional chance for an understanding and a return to the negotiating table,” Atomic Energy Organisation deputy head Mohammad Saeedi also said Monday.

But he said an enrichment freeze was “no longer possible”.

Divisions were emerging among world powers over how to handle the crisis, with the United States baying for sanctions while China said punishing Iran was not the way to resolve the long-running crisis.

Washington suspects the programme is a cover for an attempt to produce a bomb but Iran, the world’s fourth largest oil producer, insists it is purely for peaceful electricty-generation purposes.

“The Islamic republic has made up its mind and on the nuclear programme and other issues it will continue on its path with strength, with God’s help,” Khamenei was quoted as saying Monday.

The proposal, drawn up by the so-called 5+1 — the five Security Council permanent members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany, was submitted to Tehran in June.

It offers trade and technology incentives in return for a freeze on enrichment, which can make the fuel for nuclear power stations or in extended form can produce the fissile core of an atom bomb.

But Saeedi told the semi-official Mehr news agency that Iran wanted to clarify “ambiguities” in the proposal relating to article four of the Non-Proliferation Treaty which affirms the right of signatory states to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

With the threat of sanctions looming large, and bellicose warnings from the United States, Iran has been showing off its military muscle during war games this week to demonstrate its readiness to “respond to any threat.”

In Israel, a cabinet minister and former Mossad spy said the country should learn the lessons of its offensive against Hezbollah militants in Lebanon and prepare for an Iranian attack.

One of Iran’s top hardline clerics warned last week that if the country is attacked by the United States and Israel, it would retaliate with ballistic missile strikes against Tel Aviv.

Saeedi has said Iran was planning to start up a plant in the city of Arak to produce heavy water for a research reactor due for completion by 2009, and pressing on with its research on centrifuges used in the nuclear fuel process.

The UN atomic watchdog is concerned about the risk of diversion of nuclear materials as the reactor could produce 8-10 kilogrammes (about 20 pounds) of plutonium a year, enough to make at least two nuclear bombs.

US President George W. Bush said Washington would take the lead in demanding enforcement action if Iran failed to halt nuclear work.

“There must be consequences if people thumb their nose at the United Nations Security Council,” he said. “We will work with people on the Security Council to achieve that objective.”

But a Chinese official said Beijing opposed sanctions.

“We have all along stood for a peaceful settlement of the issue through negotiations, rather than resorting to force or threatening sanctions,” said Sun Bigan, special envoy to the Middle East.

“Resorting to force and sanctions cannot fully solve the problems.”

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has urged Iran to reply positively.

“I appeal to the government of Iran to seize this historic opportunity,” he said Sunday. “Iran’s reply will, I trust, be positive and that this will be the foundation for a final, negotiated settlement.”

But the markets took fright at the negative noises coming out of Iran, the OPEC oil cartel’s number two producer, which has threatened to halt exports to the West if the Security Council imposes sanctions.

In London, Brent North Sea crude for October delivery gained 20 cents to 73.58 dollars per barrel in electronic trade.

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