Published August 24, 2006
VIENNA, Austria – The six world powers studying Iran's response to their offer of nuclear negotiations will likely reject Tehran's terms for talks because they do not refer to the possibility of freezing uranium enrichment, diplomats said Thursday.
Two senior diplomats who have been briefed on the Iranian response told The Associated Press that the 25-page document from Tehran does not suggest an enrichment moratorium even once negotiations start — and that it includes only a vague reference to a willingness to discuss all aspects of the country's nuclear program.
The diplomats, who spoke from two European capitals, asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the confidential Iranian proposal.
They said the reaction among the six powers — France, Germany, Britain, Russia, the United States and China — was one of disappointment and even anger due to the lack of a response to their main demand that Tehran agree to freeze uranium enrichment.
Iran maintains it has offered "positive and clear signals" to resolve the dispute over its nuclear program, but could face U.N. sanctions unless it reverses course and agrees to a verifiable halt to enrichment, which can be used to generate energy but also to make the fissile core of nuclear warheads.
One of the diplomats told AP that the lack of Iranian flexibility on enrichment would likely leave even Russia and China no choice but to ultimately endorse U.N. sanctions against Iran. Moscow and Beijing previously have steadily put the brakes on U.S-backed efforts to punish Tehran quickly.
None of the six nations has said outright that the Iranian counteroffer is completely inadequate. But the diplomats' assessment was consistent with recent remarks by some world leaders.
A day after the Bush administration issued a guarded assessment of Iran's long-awaited response, German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday said Tehran's response appeared unsatisfactory, and was missing a "decisive sentence" on whether it would halt uranium enrichment.
"We are still examining it, but from everything that I hear we cannot be satisfied," Merkel said in an interview with N24 television. "What we expected is not set down here: 'we are suspending our uranium enrichment, we are coming to the negotiating table and we will then talk about the chances and possibilities for Iran."'
The comments by Merkel, a close ally of U.S. President George W. Bush, reflect the increasing frustration of the United States and its key European allies who have been forced to wait for several weeks for an Iranian response that many now say falls significantly short of expectations.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy says Iran must suspend uranium enrichment if it wants to return to negotiations.
But others are still urging patience in dealing with Iran. Russia's foreign ministry said it would continue to seek a negotiated solution and China appealed for patience and more dialogue.
The U.S. State Department acknowledged that Iran considered its proposal to be a serious one and promised to "review it."
But the U.S. statement issued Wednesday went on to say that Iran's response to a joint offer of U.S, and European trade and other benefits if the enrichment program was halted "falls short of the conditions set by the Security Council" — full and verifiable suspension of all uranium-enrichment activity.