Iran Seeks Details on Nuclear Offer

By Colum Lynch and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 6, 2008

UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 5 -- The Iranian government said Tuesday that it is ready to respond to an incentives package that the United States and five other world powers have offered in exchange for suspension of its uranium-enrichment program. But Iran insisted that the big powers "simultaneously" provide a more detailed explanation of the offer, a formula that may lead to drawn-out talks.

Iran's position was outlined in a statement its chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, sent Tuesday to European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana. The statement, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, said that "such mutual clarification can pave the way for a speedy and transparent negotiating process with a bright prospect."

"The Republic of Iran is ready to provide a 'clear response' to your proposal at the earliest possibility, while simultaneously expecting to receive your 'clear response' to our questions and ambiguities as well," the statement said. "The second phase of negotiations can commence as early as possible, if there is such willingness."

Iran's response fell short of demands by the United States, Britain and France that Tehran immediately accept the offer or face new sanctions. U.S. and European officials characterized Tehran's reaction as evasive.

"Our offer is clear, and their response is not clear," said Ric Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations. "The Iranian government needs to respond in a very clear way to the generous offer [from] the international community."

One European official said: "It's a stalling tactic, reiterating that they have goodwill but not answering the exam question." But the official suggested that Iran's response -- which seemed to favor further negotiations -- was probably positive enough to complicate Western efforts to secure U.N. support for a new sanctions resolution. "To be fair to the Iranians, they do this kind of thing rather well," the official said.

The U.N. Security Council has been pressing Iran since March 2006 to suspend its enrichment of uranium and begin talks over the future of its nuclear program. It has already imposed three rounds of sanctions against Iran for not doing so.

Iran insists that it is not pursuing nuclear weapons and that the 15-nation council has no right to prevent it from enriching uranium for a nuclear energy program. Tehran has approved a visit Thursday by a senior International Atomic Energy Agency official, Olli Heinonen, who monitors Iran's nuclear program, according to Reuters.

In June, the five permanent members of the Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- as well as Germany, offered sweeteners to an existing offer of economic, political and security incentives to Iran. Frustrated by a lack of response, they met with Jalili on July 19, and gave Tehran two weeks to answer. Solana led the team, which included U.S. Undersecretary of State William J. Burns.

The United States, Britain and France warned Monday -- two days after the deadline expired -- that they would press for additional sanctions against Iran if it did not respond positively and unambiguously to the offer. The six powers will hold a conference call Wednesday to consider their response to the statement. But they remain divided, with China and Russia reluctant to support tough sanctions.

"I don't see any reason to believe that the Russians and the Chinese are any more willing today to support really tougher sanctions against Iran," said Flynt Leverett, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and former Bush National Security Council staffer.

DeYoung reported from Washington.

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