EU Urges Iran to 'Respond Positively' to Acceptance Package

Europe is treading softly on the issue of Iran's uranium enrichment program at a meeting of the U.N. nuclear agency, fearing too much pressure could jeopardize talks with Tehran, documents made available to The Associated Press showed Wednesday.

A draft statement by the European Union drawn up for later delivery at the 35-nation board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency notes "that ... international concerns about Iran's nuclear program remain to be resolved and that repeated requests by the board remain to be fulfilled."

But beyond that mild criticism of Tehran's refusal to cooperate with an IAEA probe of its nuclear activities, the four-paragraph statement is conciliatory, urging Iran "to respond positively" to a recent offer to resume nuclear talks.

Separately, a confidential letter from Peter Jenkins, Britain's chief representative to the IAEA, restricts itself to informing the meeting that Iran has been offered a package of incentives in exchange for negotiating on its nuclear program.

Asked about the documents, diplomats said they were part of a strategy of not riling Iran.

The only implicit threat is a June 1 quote from British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, who warns of the possibility of "further steps ... in the U.N. Security Council" if Iran remains defiant.

Britain in the past has been among Europe's strongest critics of Tehran's nuclear ambitions. IAEA board meetings -- and resolutions -- over the past three years also have been the key means to pressure Iran.

There were positive signals from both the Iranian and European camps on Wednesday.

In Madrid, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki described the presentation of the incentives package as a "step forward."

He said Tehran would hold further consultations with several nations and then "decide together how to handle the issue and follow up the matter to the finalization and solution of the problem."

In Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said he had held a "constructive conversation" with Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani.

Still, Mottaki suggested that a long-term moratorium on enrichment -- a red line for the United States and some of its closest allies -- was not up for discussion, alluding to enrichment as "the legitimate right of our country."

Iran says it has a right to enrich uranium for purposes of generating electricity under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The United States and its allies assert the claim is a cover for attempts to develop a weapons program using highly enriched uranium in the core of nuclear warheads.

Chief U.S. delegate Gregory L. Schulte reiterated Wednesday that the United States, the Europeans, Russia and China all agree that Iran's leaders "have not taken the steps necessary to give the international community confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran's program."

He said the threat of further action against Tehran remained real.

"The United States, the Europeans, Russia and China all agree that Iran has a clear choice. A positive path that brings real benefits and long-term security to the Iranian people and if Iran chooses not to negotiate, a negative path that would lead to further steps in the Security Council," he said.

In a further reflection of Western efforts not to anger Iran, however, only the incentives part of the deal was given to Iranian officials when chief EU foreign policy official Javier Solana visited Tehran last week.

The package calls on Iran to suspend enrichment for the duration of any negotiations, and sets out the priority of a long-term moratorium of such activity until the international community is convinced that Tehran's nuclear aims are peaceful.

America also said late last month that it was ready to break with decades of policy and talk to Iran directly in a multinational framework on its nuclear program.

Still, China, Russia and possibly Germany might push to allow Iran some tightly controlled and small-scale enrichment rather than see talks founder, diplomats said. Russia and China also might balk at enforcing selective U.N. sanctions on Iranian officials and activities.