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Iran Responds To Nuclear Offer

August 22, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Iran has officially responded to an international incentives package aimed at curbing its nuclear program, although details of the written document are not yet available.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ari Larijani, was quoted by news agencies as suggesting after he delivered the response that Tehran is prepared for "serious negotiations" over its disputed nuclear program.

Larijani, who is also secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, gave his government's answer to envoys in Tehran representing the six countries who signed on to the incentives package.

Not 'Yes' Or 'No'

International diplomatic sources had suggested that they expected Iran to be "ambiguous" in its response.

Most observers expected Iranian officials to follow through on recent statements rejecting the demand that they halt uranium enrichment, a central tenet of the international effort.

The incentives package was endorsed by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) plus Germany.

The Swiss charge d'affaires, who represents U.S. interests in Iran, was reportedly present at the Tehran meeting with Larijani, along with diplomats from the other five countries who made the offer.

The UN Security Council approved a resolution on July 30 that set a date of August 31 for Iran to stop its enrichment or face possible economic and diplomatic sanctions. Officials in Tehran have rejected that deadline as illegitimate.

Beijing Opposes Sanctions

Just hours before Iran delivered its response today, China's special envoy to the Middle East, Sun Bigan, said his country opposes sanctions against Iran. Sun also called for a peaceful settlement of Tehran's nuclear dispute with the world community.

Sun warned that "resorting to force and sanctions cannot fully solve these problems." He also said sanctions could create tensions "detrimental not only to the region, but also to ourselves."

Russia and China have resisted U.S.-led efforts to impose sanctions on a recalcitrant Iran. But Moscow and Beijing publicly urged Tehran to accept the incentives offer.

Rejecting 'Arrogance'

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted by state television as saying on August 21 that "arrogant powers, led by America" fear Islamic countries' progress and are trying to block the country's scientific and technological development. "[Iran] has made its decision and, as far as the nuclear issue and other issues it is faced with are concerned, it will continue its path powerfully, with resilience and by relying on devoted efforts and God. And it will receive the sweet fruits of its efforts."

Other Iranian officials have maintained a firm line on the enrichment issue, even as their statements hinted that they might negotiate other elements of the dispute.

"Iran's response to the package is a comprehensive reply that can open the way for resumption of talks for a final agreement," AP quoted Mohammed Saeedi, deputy head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, as saying in comments published today.

The United States and other Western governments have accused Iran of covertly trying to develop nuclear weapons, a charge that Iranian officials have consistently rejected.

"Confidence building is a two-way road, [and] trust is always a two-way road," Reuters quoted Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki as saying in response to questions after a lecture in Pretoria, South Africa. "Based on negotiations, there is a possibility for a comprehensive solution to this matter."

IAEA Concerns

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has criticized Iran for its failure to disclose the nature of some of its nuclear activities. The IAEA also warned that Iran has failed to provide convincing evidence that its nuclear program is purely peaceful.

"The Guardian" newspaper quoted Western diplomats today as saying IAEA inspectors had been denied access to parts of a controversial uranium-enrichment center at Natanz.

The paper quoted diplomatic sources and other officials as downplaying the refusal, saying Iran had no obligation at this point to allow inspections of an underground facility that is under construction and is expected to contain an industrial-scale enrichment facility. They stressed that the denial of access did not appear to represent a violation of Iran's international obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), whose compliance the IAEA monitors, according to "The Guardian."

(compiled from agency reports)

Copyright (c) 2006. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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