VIENNA – Iran's new offer for talks with six world powers ignores their key demand of a freeze of Tehran's uranium enrichment program, according to a copy obtained Friday by The Associated Press, and instead amounts to a manifesto calling for a new international order.
The five-page proposal, formally submitted Wednesday to the six nations trying to entice Iran to make nuclear concessions, says Tehran stands ready to "embark on comprehensive, all-encompassing and constructive negotiations."
But because it sidesteps the request from the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany for an enrichment freeze, the vaguely worded document — essentially a grandiose call to revamp the global landscape — is unlikely to be accepted by those six nations as the sole basis for a start to talks.
"The difficult era characterized by the domination of empires, (and) predominance of military powers ... is coming to an end," the Iranian document says.
If there are no new talks, the U.S. and its Western allies will likely push for a fourth set of U.N. Security Council sanctions on Tehran for defying council demands that it suspend enrichment and heed other calls meant to reduce suspicions it is trying to make nuclear arms.
But permanent council members Russia and China are leery of new sanctions — Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin restated his opposition Friday. So Washington and key EU countries are already working on imposing additional penalties of their own, should the council remain divided.
Along with further tightening banking and other economic restrictions on Iranian entities, the West is considering embargoes on gasoline sales on Iran, whose creaky refinery network cannot produce enough for domestic consumption — even at the risk of provoking a ban by Tehran on oil sales to the West.
In making a renewed offer to talk with Iran last year, the six offered a range of enticements, "as long as Iran verifiably suspends its enrichment-related and reprocessing activities."
These included help in developing a peaceful nuclear program, improved political and trade ties and a "reaffirmation ... to refrain ... from the threat or use of force" against any country — essentially a veiled security assurance meant to ease Iranian fears of possible a U.S. military attack.
Instead of a direct response to that offer, the Iranian paper, shared with the AP by a member nation of the International Atomic Energy Agency, suggests that the superpower era is fading, in an indirect slap at the U.S.
"These mechanisms ... are the direct products of retaliations based on brute power and domination, while our world today needs mechanisms that come from divine and godly thinking and an approach based on human values and compassion," the document says.
From Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei down, senior officials consistently rule out freezing enrichment and dismiss international concerns that the activity is meant to give the country the means of making the material for nuclear warheads. Instead, they say it is geared strictly toward creating nuclear fuel.
On Monday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his country will neither halt uranium enrichment nor negotiate over its nuclear rights but is ready to sit and talk with world powers over "global challenges."
Asked about the substance of the document, a senior official from one of the six countries called it "an outrage." Still, he cautioned against completely ruling out at least preliminary talks.
Speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly on the issue, he said representatives of the six would be probing Tehran to see if there is any readiness to compromise on enrichment, even if the topic is avoided in the written offer.
If Iran agrees to a suspension as a condition to talks on its proposals, then at least preliminary talks may be held to see if the two sides can move closer from clearly diverging positions on what should be discussed, he told the AP.
In a rehash of previous Iranian visions outlined by Ahmadinejad and others, the Iranian offer links any talks with a discussion of Middle East tensions "to help the people of Palestine achieve all-embracing peace."
It calls for a a "reform" of the U.N. Security Council — shorthand for curbing the authority of the U.S. and the four other permanent council members. And in the only link to the arms issue it couples "preventing development and proliferation of nuclear ... weapons" to disarmament by the world nuclear powers.
Senior officials from the six nations spoke by conference call on Wednesday about Iran's proposal and were to hold a second round of talks Friday.
While the six have yet to make a formal reply to the offer, the U.S. has already expressed its disappointment, with State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley saying "it's not really responsive" to the June 14, 2008 initiative from the six.
U.S. President Barack Obama and European allies have given Iran until the end of September to take up an offer of nuclear talks with six world powers and trade incentives should it suspend uranium enrichment activities.
U.S. officials say the administration would like to have a consensus by the time the foreign ministers of the six countries meet in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in the third week of September, when Obama is also slated to chair a meeting of the Security Council on nuclear nonproliferation.
But council unity is unlikely. Putin, Russia's prime minister, warned Friday against using force or new sanctions against Iran for its defiance, saying Moscow has no evidence that Tehran is seeking nuclear arms.
Still, Iran already appears to be bracing for new penalties.
Iranian state TV reported earlier this month that Tehran has signed a deal with Venezuela for the export of 20,000 barrels per day of gasoline to Iran.
The agreement was signed during a visit by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who pledged to deepen ties with Iran and stand together against what he called the imperialist powers of the world.
Iran is vulnerable in its dependence on fuel imports. Despite its substantial oil resources, it lacks the refinery capacity to meet its own demand and must buy vast quantities of commercial-ready fuel on the open market.