August 22, 2006

Big powers study Iran’s reply to offer

By Edmund Blair

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Six world powers were studying Iran's
offer of more talks to resolve a nuclear dispute on Wednesday,
but it was not clear whether Tehran's response went far enough
to avert the threat of United Nations sanctions.

Iran said its reply on Tuesday to the powers' nuclear
incentives offer contained ideas that would allow serious talks
about its standoff to start straightaway.

But there was no sign Tehran had agreed to a key U.N.
Security Council demand that it freeze uranium enrichment by
August 31 or face the prospect of sanctions. Iran has called
the deadline meaningless.

One EU diplomat said Iran had ruled out halting enrichment
before talks "but indicated that it might be open to accept
suspension in the course of negotiations." Other diplomats
declined to confirm Iran had shown flexibility on enrichment.

The five permanent U.N. Security Council members Britain,
China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany,
which offered Iran the incentives to stop enrichment were
tight-lipped on its response.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana would say
only that Iran's answer was "extensive and therefore requires a
detailed and careful analysis."

A White House spokesman said on Tuesday that President Bush
had yet to examine the Iranian reply.

The world's fourth largest oil exporter, Iran says it will
not abandon what it calls its right to enrich uranium for use
in nuclear power stations. Western countries fear Iran wants to
master enrichment to give it the ability to make atomic bombs.

Iran had said its reply to the package of economic,
security and nuclear incentives would be "multi-dimensional,"
suggesting no simple 'yes' or 'no'.

Iran's answer was likely to be designed to divide Security
Council members Russia and China, both key trade partners of
Tehran lukewarm about sanctions, from the United States, France
and Britain which have backed tougher measures.

"They are betting that they can splinter the coalition and
that they can carve off one or two members of the Security
Council in supporting something less than suspension," said
U.S.-based non-proliferation expert Jon Wolfsthal of the Center
for Strategic and International Studies.

"The question is can the United States convince these
countries (China and Russia) to stay on board?," he asked.