TEHRAN, Iran – Iran said Sunday that Western incentives to halt its nuclear program were an "acceptable basis" for talks, and it is ready for detailed negotiations.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice responded that Iran should talk directly to negotiators if it wants to discuss the six-nation proposal.
Frustrated world powers agreed Wednesday to send Iran to the U.N. Security Council for possible punishment, saying Tehran had given no sign it would bargain in earnest over its nuclear ambitions.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters in Tehran that, "We consider this package an appropriate basis, an acceptable basis (for talks)."
"Now is an appropriate opportunity for Iran and Europe to enter detailed negotiations," he said. "Sending the dossier to the U.N. Security Council means blocking and rejecting talks."
Asefi called on the eight major world powers meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, to choose dialogue with Iran.
"We can achieve acceptable results in this path," Asefi said.
Rice said at the Group of Eight meeting that Iran should contact European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, the envoy who delivered the proposal last month and has been meeting with Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani.
G8 leaders were expected to discuss Iran's nuclear program at the summit but none directly addressed Asefi's comments.
"If the Iranians want to respond positively, I would hope that they would do so through the channel that is established between the six and the government of Iran, and that is Mr. Solana," Rice said. "There is, indeed, a very good proposal on the table that could be a basis for negotiations ... There is also a path ahead to the Security Council on which we are now launched."
Iran has said specialized committees in key state agencies are studying the June 6 offer by the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany, and that it will formally respond in late August.
The key demand of the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany is that Iran stop enriching uranium during any negotiations.
After more than a month of waiting for Iran to respond, the six nations are unlikely to accept anything other than an unconditional "yes" to an enrichment halt before talks on the package begin.
Diplomats have said recent meetings with Iran have gone nowhere, and that it appeared Tehran hoped to buy time or exploit potential divisions among the six powers, and wiggle out of having to freeze enrichment.
The package includes economic incentives and a provision for the United States to offer Iran some nuclear technology, lift some sanctions and join direct negotiations. The proposal also calls for Iran to impose a long-term moratorium on uranium enrichment — which can produce civilian reactor fuel or fissile bomb material.
The United States and some of its allies accuse Iran of seeking nuclear weapons. Tehran has denied the charges, saying its program is aimed at making electricity, not bombs.
Iran has said it will never give up its right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel, but has indicated it may temporarily suspend large-scale activities to ease tensions.
Russian lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev, the Kremlin-linked chairman of the international affairs committee of the lower house of parliament, greeted Tehran's announcement with guarded optimism.
"On the one hand we must hail any readiness by Tehran at least to discuss the proposals of the six nations," he told The Associated Press. "Unfortunately, we have already witnessed such signals in the past, which then were not followed up."
He suspected Iran of "dragging its feet" to avoid unnecessary concessions.
"Iran is playing with fire," he warned. "The international community may one day run out of patience and unfortunately, the point of view of those who call for maybe a tougher stance on Iran may prevail. Iran must clearly understand that."