TEHRAN, (Reuters) – An influential Iranian cleric told the West on Friday an ultimatum would not help talks with Iran over its nuclear plans, after Washington told Tehran it had two weeks to respond to a package of nuclear incentives.
Iran and the six world powers, represented by European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, held a meeting in Geneva on July 19 to discuss the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions, which the West fears are aimed at building atomic bombs.
Afterwards, Western officials said Iran had two weeks to reply to the offer for Iran to rein in its nuclear work in return for a halt to new steps towards more U.N. sanctions.
Russia, among the six, has said it opposes artificial deadlines. “We have finally agreed to sit down and negotiate, then what is this about issuing a deadline and ultimatum? Let’s give this negotiation a chance with patience and perseverance,” former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said in a Friday prayers sermon. “Every time the situation (of the nuclear dispute) is about to get better, these Western hardliners and radicals begin diverting attention by various propaganda ploys,” the mid-ranking cleric said in a speech broadcast live on state radio.
Rafsanjani holds several senior posts, including heading a clerical assembly whose role is to supervise the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s ultimate decision maker.
Iranian officials have so far ruled out both a freeze to get preliminary discussions going and a demand that Iran eventually suspend its nuclear programme to start formal talks.
Iran, the world’s fourth largest oil producer, denies seeking nuclear weapons and says it is ready for talks. It insists its aim is to master technology to generate electricity so that it can export more of its oil and gas.
The United States, leading efforts to isolate Iran, has warned Tehran it would face more sanctions, in addition to the three rounds of U.N. penalties already imposed since 2006, if it fails to meet the two-week deadline.