WASHINGTON, AP – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put Iran on notice Sunday that the incentives offered by the West to suspend its nuclear program are not open-ended, although she declined to say Tehran had a firm deadline to respond.
“I’m not one for timelines and specific schedules, but I think it’s fair to say that we really do have to have this settled over a matter of weeks, not months,” Rice said.
Asked whether the U.S. and its allies expected an answer by mid-July when the world’s economic powers attend a summit in Russia, Rice said, “We’ll see where we are at that time.”
“No one among these six powers is prepared to let this simply drag out with Iran continuing to make progress on its nuclear program,” she said. Rice said it was essential that Iran suspend suspect nuclear activity because “you don’t want the negotiations to be used as a cover for continued progress along the nuclear front.”
The six nations — the U.S., Great Britain, Germany, France, China and Russia — agreed Thursday to offer Iran new incentives if it would give up uranium enrichment.
Rice said the proposal represented “a major opportunity” for Iran. “It’s sort of a major crossroads for Iran and it’s perhaps not surprising that they will need a little bit of time to look at it.
“But the fact is there are two paths, and we hope they’re going to choose the path that is a path away from confrontation and toward a solution,” the chief U.S. diplomat said.
The nations said they would punish Iran, through the U.N. Security Council, if it refused to accept the terms.
“We are absolutely satisfied with the commitments of our allies to a robust path in the Security Council should this not work,” Rice said.
The United States and other Western nations suspect Iran’s nuclear program is intended to produce weapons. Tehran insists it is only for generating electricity.
Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said Saturday that a breakthrough was possible and welcomed unconditional talks with all parties, including the United States.
But Iran’s top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, insisted Sunday that his country would not give up the right to produce nuclear fuel. He also warned that energy supplies from the Gulf region would be disrupted if Iran came under attack from the United States. Rice dismissed that talk.
“I think that we shouldn’t place too much emphasis on a threat of this kind,” Rice told “Fox News Sunday.”
She cited Iran’s heavy dependence on oil revenue. “So obviously it would be a very serious problem for Iran if oil were to be disrupted on the market,” she said.
Rice also made clear that if the first major public negotiations in more than 25 years involving Washington and Tehran go ahead, “This is not an offer of a grand bargain somehow with Iran. This is not an offer to let bygones be bygones and to forget the record of terrorism or the human rights.”