G-8 'Disappointed' With Iran Over Nuclear Offer

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 30, 2006

MOSCOW, June 29 -- Iran should give a "clear and substantive" response next Wednesday to an offer for economic and other incentives as part of negotiations on its nuclear program, the United States, Russia and other industrial nations said Thursday.

Foreign ministers of the Group of Eight countries said in a statement that they were "disappointed" Iran had not yet provided a formal response to the offer, made on June 1 in Vienna by the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany.

A top Iranian official is to meet with the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, on Wednesday to discuss the offer. U.S. officials indicated that more than one meeting might be necessary to get a full answer from the Iranians.

Putting pressure on Iran, U.S. officials said the foreign ministers of the countries that made the offer -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany -- will meet on July 12 to assess the Iranian response and decide whether it is adequate to begin negotiations -- or warrants bringing the issue back to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, at a news conference at the United Nations, rejected the demand for an answer in July, saying it would not come before August because of "questions and ambiguities" in the proposal.

The offer was made after the Bush administration shifted course and decided to join talks on Iran's program if the Tehran government agreed to suspend its uranium enrichment activities. Enriching uranium is a key step toward the possible development of nuclear weapons. The offer is intended to sharpen the choice facing Iran, giving it a clear reason to choose cooperation over confrontation on its nuclear program, which Iranian officials say is intended solely for generating electricity.

"An agreement of this sort would allow the Iranian people to enjoy the benefits of modern civil nuclear power and would bring Iran many other long-term political and economic advantages," the G-8 statement said.

The statement made no mention of possible sanctions. When Solana formally presented the offer to the Iranian government on June 6, he provided a written copy of incentives but only orally mentioned a list of sanctions, known among diplomats as "disincentives," that might be considered if Iran does not suspend its nuclear program.

Although the six countries agreed on the list of possible sanctions, choosing which ones to impose if Iran refuses to negotiate would likely be a diplomatic challenge.

China and Russia have said they oppose sanctions. Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a speech Tuesday that did not directly refer to Iran, said: "We have no intention of joining in any kinds of ultimatums that only drive the situation into a dead end and deal a blow to the U.N. Security Council's authority." He added that crises cannot be settled by isolating countries but by drawing them into dialogue.

During a news conference here, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sidestepped a question about whether they were unified on using sanctions if Iran did not respond positively. "We did not discuss anything beyond the offer which we all made in good faith to Iran, which is a positive offer," Lavrov said.

On Wednesday, Solana met with senior officials from the six countries for five hours to discuss strategies for dealing with the Iranian response. A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters that there was firm agreement on the need for a timely Iranian answer.

He also said the six countries agreed that Iran would not be allowed to provide some halfway response to the request to end its enrichment activities. He said that a suspension would have to include no more spinning of centrifuges, no introduction of uranium gas, no more activities at Iran's facility in Nantanz and no new construction of centrifuge arrays known as cascades.

In the statement, which covered a long list of foreign policy issues, the foreign ministers also called on Israel to "exercise utmost restraint" in the Gaza Strip, where it is conducting a major military operation in an attempt to free a soldier held by Palestinian gunmen. The ministers also expressed concern over the detention of about one-third of the Hamas-led cabinet.

"We believe that the political process cannot be restored by way of violence on either side," said French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company