Iran Offers Talks On Nuclear Issue

By John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, September 13, 2006

PARIS, Sept. 12 -- Iran's confidential response three weeks ago to an international proposal over its nuclear program offered extensive negotiations to resolve the standoff, but only if proceedings against Iran in the U.N. Security Council were stopped.

In a detailed and sometimes rambling document given to foreign governments, Iran stopped short of rejecting demands to halt its nuclear enrichment program, saying the issue could be resolved in talks. The response, closely held for weeks, was made public on a Web site Monday.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran does not intend to reject the whole issue unilaterally, and is ready to provide an opportunity for both sides to share their viewpoints on this issue and try to convince each other and reach a mutual understanding," the document says.

But ending enrichment should not be a prerequisite to negotiations, as demanded by the United States and other countries, the proposal suggests. And if Security Council deliberations aimed at imposing sanctions on Iran continue, the document warns, "the positions expressed in this response would be void and the Islamic Republic would choose a different course of action."

Iran was responding formally to a package of political and economic incentives offered to it in June by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. The countries hope to persuade Iran to stop enriching uranium, which some foreign governments feel is intended for nuclear weapons. Iran contends that the program is peaceful, aimed at making fuel for electrical power plants.

The incentives included the possibility of direct talks with the United States for the first time since relations between the two countries were severed in 1979.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, and the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, have been in preliminary talks in recent days over Iran's proposals. On Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suggested that a temporary suspension might be enough to clear the way for formal negotiations.

In the document, posted on the Web site of the Institute for Science and International Security on Monday, the Iranian government repeatedly refers to its rights under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to develop a peaceful nuclear program, saying it "cannot accept deprivation from its legal rights." As for allegations that it is pursuing weapons, the document demands that Iran be granted a presumption of innocence, in the absence of any proof that it is has a nuclear weapons program.

Iran "is against production, stockpiling, development and proliferation of nuclear weapons," the document says.

It calls for "simultaneous mutual confidence-building" that would include a commitment by the foreign governments "to seriously follow up the fulfillment of a nuclear free zone in the Middle East, particularly the commitment to disarm [Israel] from weapons of mass destruction and in particular nuclear arms." Israel is widely believed to have a nuclear arsenal, but it has never acknowledged having such weapons.

The document also seeks assurances that if Iran engages in nuclear negotiations, it will not be attacked or subjected to economic sanctions.

In the document, Iran portrays the current standoff as the beginning of a negotiating process, saying the foreign governments' proposal "has elements which may be useful for a constructive approach."

But the document complains that the package "lacks any reference to irreversible and irrevocable guarantees" for any ultimate agreement. "Such guarantees are particularly essential on access to advanced nuclear technology and equipment, erection and commissioning of nuclear power reactors, nuclear fuel supply, and transfer of know-how and technology," it says.

The document also seeks a clear statement by the foreign governments of Iran's rights under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The document suggests that the secretiveness of Iran's nuclear program was forced upon it by the hostility of other countries, which it said tried to constrain its legitimate and legal rights to develop nuclear technologies under the treaty.

"We have no interest in limiting or suspending inspections of our nuclear facilities and activities," the document says. But "a quarter century of denial and deprivation" forced Iran to develop a nuclear program "on the basis of independence and self-reliance."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company