By Thomas Erdbrink and Robin Wright
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, June 15, 2008
TEHRAN, June 14 -- Iran said Saturday that a package of incentives offered by six countries was "out of the question" because it includes a demand for the country to suspend uranium enrichment activities.
The European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, presented the proposal to Iranian authorities Saturday on behalf of the United States, China, France, Germany, Britain and Russia. He told reporters in Tehran, the Iranian capital, that the offer was "generous and comprehensive and a starting point for real negotiations" on the country's nuclear program.
But Iranian officials said even before the offer was formally made that they would not consider any proposal that included halting its uranium enrichment as a condition to talks.
"If the package includes suspension, it is not debatable at all," Gholam Hossein Elham, Iran's government spokesman, told reporters at his weekly news conference, the Iranian press agency Farsnews reported. "The stance of the Islamic Republic is clear. Any precondition regarding suspension would be out of the question."
Iran says its nuclear research and facilities are solely for peaceful purposes. But the United States and some European countries reject that assertion, accusing Iran of using its civilian program as a cover for developing a nuclear weapons program.
Emphasizing Iran's rights according to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Solana said: "We are ready to fully recognize Iran's right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes."
The proposal promises Iran light-water nuclear reactors and built-in cooperation with the six countries. It also includes binding guarantees for supplying fuel to these installations and cooperation between the two sides on the management of nuclear waste.
Non-nuclear parts of the proposal involve regional security cooperation and trade liberalization between Iran and the six countries. It also mentions technological assistance for Iran's telecommunications infrastructure and support to help modernize its agriculture sector, education and emergency responses.
Independence from the influence of other countries is an important theme for the Iranian authorities, who say the nuclear issue is an international litmus test that will indicate how world powers will respond to developing countries.
In April, Iran offered its own proposal, which calls for a "new and more advanced plan for interaction" and "agreement on collective commitments to cooperate" on various political, economic, regional, international, nuclear and "energy security" issues. It also seeks steps to "bolster the stability and the advancement of democracy in the region."
The main difference between it and the proposal offered Saturday is that Iran does not accept any preconditions to talks, such as the suspension of enrichment.
Solana and representatives of five of the six countries -- the United States did not send an envoy -- did not meet with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They instead met with Iran's new chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, and Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.
The Bush administration warned that Iran's rejection of the package would lead to new sanctions and "further isolation," a senior State Department official said in a conference call on the condition of anonymity.
"The Security Council members would be disappointed in a rejection by Iran of this package. So, yes, I do expect more international action," he said.
But despite Elham's remarks, the State Department official said subsequent comments in the Iranian press "sort of leave the door open."
President Bush, speaking from Paris, said he was "disappointed" by the reports that Iranian leaders had rejected the incentives. "It's an indication to the Iranian people that their leadership is willing to isolate them further," he said.
Bush did not say what additional steps against Iran the United States would take or whether he believed European countries would agree to them.
Wright reported from Washington. Staff writer Dan Eggen in Paris contributed to this report.