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Iran Urges West to See "Positive" Signs

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By NASSER KARIMI
The Associated Press
Wednesday, August 23, 2006; 4:51 PM

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran said Wednesday it had offered "positive and clear signals" in its proposal to resolve the standoff over its nuclear program, as the key U.N. Security Council members diverged over their responses _ setting the stage for a possible fight if the West pushes for sanctions.

China and Russia suggested they might support further talks, but the U.S. and France said Tehran's proposal falls short of U.N. demands. None unequivocally rejected or accepted Iran's counteroffer to a package of incentives offered by the U.S. and five other world powers to persuade Tehran to roll back on its nuclear program.

Diplomats at the U.N. and foreign capitals were studying what Germany called Iran's "voluminous and complex" offer, a day after Tehran presented it without releasing full details. Iran's proposal offers negotiations with the six nations but apparently resists suspending uranium enrichment _ the main Security Council demand to avoid sanctions.

A statement by the State Department acknowledged that Iran considered its proposal to be a serious one and "we will review it." But it went on to say that Iran's response "falls short of the conditions set by the Security Council" and Washington would be consulting with its partners "on next steps."

Nevertheless, the Iranians sought Wednesday to portray their detailed counteroffer as a major initiative that could lead to a resolution of the yearlong dispute without having to resort to a bruising fight over sanctions.

It appeared the counteroffer was designed to entice Europe, China and Russia into further negotiations without accepting a suspension of uranium enrichment _ an important step in making nuclear weapons _ as a precondition for talks. That could drive a wedge among the five veto-wielding powers on the Security Council _ the Americans, British and French on one side and the Russians and Chinese on the other.

The six countries that offered the incentives package _ the five permanent council members plus Germany _ must now decide whether to respond to questions Iran reportedly raised in its response. U.S. Ambassador John Bolton had said the United States would move quickly to circulate elements for a new Security Council resolution calling for economic sanctions against Iran if its response was not positive.

"If the Europeans pay proper attention to positive and clear signals included in Iran's response, the case will be solved through negotiation and without tension," state-controlled radio quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi as saying Wednesday.

Asefi described Iran's proposal as a sign of his country's good will to resolve the standoff.

But a senior U.S. official familiar with the outlines of the Iranian proposals suggested Tehran's offer strengthens Russia and China, which are reluctant to move to immediate sanctions.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue with the media, said Iran's response gives those two countries ammunition to oppose sanctions by giving the appearance of wiggle room even if there is none.

Both Russia and China have significant economic ties to Iran. China is in the market for sources of oil to fuel its economic boom, and Moscow has had nuclear deals with the Iranians dating back to Soviet times. Russia is also a major supplier of weapons to Iran and is building the country's first nuclear power plant in the southern port of Bushehr under an $800 million contract.


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© 2006 The Associated Press

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