Iran Derides Incentive Bid To Resolve Nuclear Dispute

By Karl Vick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, May 18, 2006

TEHRAN, May 17 -- President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday swept aside the notion of Iran accepting incentives in exchange for halting uranium enrichment, dismissing an offer that European powers had yet to actually extend.

"Do you think you are dealing with a 4-year-old child to whom you can give some walnuts and chocolates and get gold in return?" Ahmadinejad told a cheering crowd in Arak, where Iran is building a heavy-water nuclear facility. A reactor that uses light water, a technology less likely to produce fuel suitable for nuclear weapons, is expected to be the centerpiece of a package three European governments are preparing in hopes of revitalizing negotiations over Iran's nuclear program.

"They say they want to offer us incentives," Ahmadinejad said. "We tell them: Keep the incentives as a gift for yourself. We have no hope of anything good from you."

Separately, a Foreign Ministry spokesman playfully suggested that Iran was in a better position to make offers than the Europeans. "We are prepared to offer economic incentives to Europe in return for recognizing our right" to peaceful nuclear power, said spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi, according to state radio. "Iran's 70 million population market is a good incentive for Europe."

Both officials' remarks appeared to signal Iran's comfort with its position, despite the halting international campaign to suspend its nuclear program, which the Bush administration and several European governments say is intended to produce nuclear weapons. The foreign powers are divided between Russia and China, which will not support U.N. Security Council actions that could lead to sanctions against Iran, and the United States, Britain, France and Germany, which argue that Iran will respond only to pressure.

In the latest indication that divisions remain, talks scheduled for Friday among the six countries in London were postponed, as officials sought additional time to fine-tune the bid to lure Iran back to meaningful negotiations. The package of incentives, which includes promises of new trade ties and advanced technology, is designed to deflate the nuclear crisis while coaxing Tehran into the international community.

"Before rejecting it," one European diplomat in Tehran said, "it would be sensible to read it."

But Ahmadinejad said Iran was loath to repeat the "bitter experience" of its last pact with Britain, France and Germany, European Union heavyweights known as the E.U.-3. In 2003, shortly after Iran's nuclear program emerged from 18 years of secrecy, Tehran agreed to suspend enrichment work to reassure the world that its intentions were peaceful. But after two years, the theocratic government reactivated the program, saying the Europeans never intended to allow Iran to pursue a civilian nuclear power program as allowed under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Last month Iran succeeded enriching very small amounts of uranium to 3.5 percent, the level needed to generate electric power but far below the 80 percent level needed for weapons. The achievement, which surprised some observers, appeared to stiffen Tehran's resolve.

"We accepted suspension once with confidence in you, and unfortunately this was a bitter experience," Ahmadinejad said. "We will not be bitten twice."

He repeated veiled threats to pull out of the nuclear treaty and cease cooperation with U.N. monitors, framing the confrontation as a proud Iran defying Western powers intent on denying an Islamic country knowledge that equals power.

"When did we reach a begging hand to you for you to think that with incentives you can withhold our rights to scientific progress?" he asked. "We don't have a problem for you to solve."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company