UNITED NATIONS, (AFP) – Iran unveiled proposals to end a standoff over its suspected nuclear weapons program and thwart a move toward possible UN sanctions but the United States, France and Britain reacted coolly.
In a much-anticipated address to the UN General Assembly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad outlined four proposals, including an offer to "engage in serious partnership with private and public sectors of other countries in the implementation of the uranium-enrichment program in Iran."
"This represents the most far-reaching step, outside all requirements of the NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty), being proposed by Iran as a further confidence-building measure," he said.
He also proposed that South Africa join the talks to resolve the crisis over Tehran”s nuclear program.
But he warned that Tehran would reconsider its stance if it was subjected to "a language of force and threat."
Initial Western reaction to the Iranian package was downbeat.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she had not had time to read Ahmadinejad”s speech, but told reporters, "I hope Iran will engage in realistic discussions with the rest of the world about what is possible."
She urged Iran to resume bargaining with Britain, France and Germany, which have been trying to use economic and security incentives to persuade Tehran to renounce its suspected nuclear weapons ambitions.
A senior State Department official, who asked not to be named, said, "Our initial look at the speech, our reaction, is that it is a very aggressive speech.
"And it would appear to cross EU redlines, especially in one very important regard, enrichment," the official said, in a reference to Ahmadinejad”s insistence on the right of Iran to conduct sensitive fuel-cycle work.
France wasted little time in saying it was not convinced by the Iranian”s proposals.
"What I heard today makes me say the option of referral … to the UN Security Council remains on the agenda," Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told reporters.
"The Iranian president has offered nothing in this speech to suggest that he wants to abide by the agreement that Iran has made," a British Foreign Office spokesman said here.
Iran agreed to suspend sensitive uranium enrichment activities last November under the so-called Paris agreement, but Tehran resumed its fuel-cycle work in August after angrily rejecting the latest offer by Britain, France and Germany.
Senior officials from the United States, France, Britain and Germany were to meet Sunday to discuss the proposals, the US State Department said.
Ahmadinejad unveiled his new proposals two days before the International Atomic Energy Agency was to meet in Vienna to consider a US-EU push to haul Tehran before the UN Security Council for possible sanctions for resuming sensitive fuel cycle work.
He also said that the UN General Assembly should create an ad hoc committee to study and report on "possible practical measures and strategies for complete disarmament."
"Continued interaction and technical and legal cooperation with the IAEA will be the centerpiece of our nuclear policy," he further suggested.
Taking the podium after Ahmadinejad, South African President Thabo Mbeki made no reference to the Iranian proposals. But he told the General Assembly: "we firmly believe that negotiations should resume, and the matter settled within the context of the provisions of the NPT and with the full participation of the IAEA."
Ahmadinejad, who met with the British, French and German foreign ministers on Thursday, made clear Iran”s intention to pursue uranium enrichment activities, saying: "peaceful use of nuclear energy without possession of nuclear fuel cycle is an empty proposition."
He accused the United States of a policy of "nuclear apartheid" that would bar other NPT members from access to material, equipment and peaceful nuclear technology.
"If some try to impose their will on the Iranian people through resort to a language of force and threat with Iran, we will reconsider our entire approach to the nuclear issue," he warned.
In an interview earlier Saturday with CNN, the Iranian leader did not rule out pushing oil prices higher in response to any hostile Western actions.
Ahead of the speech, a top Iranian official in Tehran warned that his country was prepared for any eventuality, including a military strike.
While Washington has the support of Britain, France and Germany for bringing Iran before the Council, Russia as a permanent council member could veto any measure against Iran.
Moscow is building Iran”s first civilian nuclear power reactor at Bushehr, but insists on Tehran returning the spent nuclear fuel to Russia for storage.
China, another permanent veto-wielding council member, is also resisting action against Tehran, and US diplomats say there is little point to a referral if both Moscow and Beijing oppose the move.