TEHRAN (Reuters) – Western powers are warning Iran of more sanctions if it rejects an incentives offer and presses on with sensitive nuclear work, but the Islamic Republic is showing no sign of backing down.
On Saturday, Iran again ruled out suspending uranium enrichment despite the offer by six world powers of help in developing a civilian nuclear program if it stopped activities the United States and others suspect are designed to make bombs.
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said after talks in Tehran that Iran should cease enrichment during negotiations on the offer, a precondition it has repeatedly rejected.
“The deadlock is still there,” one Iranian political analyst who declined to be named said after Solana’s visit.
The incentives package agreed by the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany last month and delivered by Solana to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki is a revised version of one rejected by Iran in 2006.
Leading member of parliament Alaeddin Boroujerdi said Iran will review the proposal but halting enrichment is a “red line” which will not be accepted, the official IRNA news agency said.
Solana said he expected a reply soon from Iran, which says its nuclear program is only for the generation of electricity, but Boroujerdi said Tehran was in no hurry.
“They will never accept the proposal as it is,” one Western diplomat said. “As usual they are playing for time.”
The United States says it wants a diplomatic solution to a standoff that has helped push oil prices to record highs but has not ruled out military action as a last resort.
“A rejection of this package would lead to further isolation of Iran and would lead to further international sanctions,” said a senior U.S. State Department official, declining to be named.
“BLOW TO WORLD PEACE”
A top British official said before Solana’s Tehran trip: “If they were to reject this initiative, then we would expect there to be further EU sanctions imposed before the end of July.”
Iran’s refusal to stop enriching uranium, which can be used as fuel for power plants or to provide material for bombs, has drawn three rounds of U.N. sanctions since late 2006.
President George W. Bush has spent a lot of time during a farewell tour of Europe over the last week trying to forge a united front to press Iran to suspend such nuclear work.
“Our allies understand that a nuclear-armed Iran is incredibly destabilizing, and they understand that it would be a major blow to world peace,” Bush said on Saturday.
The incentives package included help for Iran to develop a civilian nuclear program with light water reactors — seen as less prone to diversion into bomb-making than technology Tehran now has — and legally binding nuclear fuel supply guarantees.
“We are offering a proposal which we would like to be the starting point for real negotiations,” said Solana.
The last three resolutions were relatively limited in scope — including targeting individuals, some firms with military links and several banks.
Flush with record oil revenues that have helped it withstand the sanctions, Iran has long ruled out ending its quest for its own enrichment industry.
Tehran argues it is its right under international treaties to master the complete nuclear fuel cycle for civilian purposes — from mining uranium to enriching it. It aims to start test-running its first nuclear power plant at Bushehr this year.
“If the package includes suspension it is not debatable at all,” government spokesman Gholamhossein Elham said on Saturday when asked about the incentives offer from major powers.
Mottaki suggested Iran was ready to engage in negotiations, but said its response to the major powers depended on their reaction to Tehran’s own package of proposals submitted to the EU and others last month that was designed to end the standoff.
Diplomats say Iran’s proposals failed to allay concerns about its uranium enrichment.