VIENNA,(Reuters) – Major world powers prepared on Friday to deliver pivotal proposals to Iran combining incentives to halt work that could produce nuclear weapons with a threat of U.N. Security Council action if it refuses.
A European Union diplomat said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana was on standby to deliver the offer to Iran, pending the result of contacts with Tehran.
“When the conditions are right, Solana will be the one to deliver the package,” the diplomat said.
“We have to wait a little bit. There is a lot of diplomatic traffic going on now with the Iranians on when to go ahead and announce that Solana will go.”
A senior U.S. official reiterated that Iran could have a nuclear weapon by 2010.
Officials who finalised the Iran package at a meeting of United Nations Security Council permanent members plus Germany and the EU in Vienna on Thursday said it included an offer to remove Iran’s case from the Security Council.
“We have agreed a set of far-reaching proposals as a basis for discussions with Iran. We believe they offer Iran the chance to reach a negotiated agreement based on cooperation,” British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said in a statement.
Seeking to coerce as well as coax Iran, U.S. officials said the world powers had agreed to “measures with teeth” if Tehran spurned the gesture, although officials declined to specify what actions could be taken.
Russian and Chinese opposition to any trigger for tough sanctions on Iran, arguing that it poses no imminent threat, dragged out talks with Western powers on a package for weeks.
Iranian officials had said in advance they would never barter away the Islamic state’s drive to enrich uranium, likening the proposal as akin to exchanging “candies for gold”.
Iran, the world’s No. 4 oil producer, denies seeking a nuclear arsenal. It says its quest for nuclear technology will generate electricity that will not be diverted into secret bomb making.
Iran also said on Thursday that while it was open to direct talks with long-time foe the United States, it would not accept Washington’s precondition that it suspend enrichment first.
John Negroponte, U.S. director of National Intelligence, said Iran could have a nuclear weapon by 2010.
“The estimate we have made is that sometime between the beginning of the next decade and the middle of the next decade they might be in a position to have a nuclear weapon which is a cause of great concern,” he told BBC radio.
His comments echoed previous estimates by arms experts that Iran is between 3 and 10 years away from nuclear weapons.
Tehran announced in April production of its first batch of low-enriched uranium, suitable for use in atomic power reactors. But arms experts say it faces many difficulties mastering the technology needed to produce significant quantities of highly-enriched bomb-grade uranium.
Chinese President Hu Jintao told his U.S. counterpart that Beijing would work closely with Washington on Iran. But it was still not clear whether China, which holds veto power in the U.N. Security Council, would support a U.S. push for sanctions if an offer to Iran for talks fails.
“China is ready to keep contact and coordination with the United States and play a constructive role in resuming the negotiations on the Iran nuclear issue at an early date,” Hu told George W. Bush, the official Xinhua news agency said.
Before Thursday’s meeting, diplomats said the incentives for Iran were expected to encompass a light-water nuclear reactor and an assured foreign supply of atomic fuel for Iran so Tehran would not need to enrich uranium itself. They had said sanctions could entail visa bans and a freeze on assets of Iranian officials before resort to trade measures.
“It is a balanced package, that’s the main thing,” an EU diplomat said of the meeting’s outcome.