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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Iran to Make Counteroffer

Iran is prepared to restrain its nuclear activities but remains adamantly opposed to halting uranium enrichment in order to gain new nuclear negotiations, the Financial Times reported yesterday (see GSN, June 16).

Two Iranian officials said Tehran plans to submit a counteroffer to the world powers’ incentives package within the next two weeks. They said Iran would offer talks without preconditions, with hopes that China and Russia would not insist on Iran suspending its enrichment activities.

“The leadership can’t be sure how Russia and China will react, but are confident they won’t reject this outright,” said the first official.

“The situation remains very delicate,” said one official. “The … package was weak and Ayatollah Khamenei found it disappointing.”

However, former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani and former negotiator Hassan Rohani persuaded Khamenei to tentatively accept the offer for consideration, according to the officials.

“Now I’m optimistic, if we can first find a way to overcome the problem of enrichment,” said one official.

“Around 70 percent of senior people may be prepared, under pressure, to accept an eventual limit on the number of centrifuges (for enriching uranium) to hundreds or thousands,” he said, adding that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in the minority.

“The West’s package accepts Iran’s right to nuclear energy — so the next step is that the West accepts enrichment and drops the big fuss,” he said.

One official said Iran might settle for three cascades of 164 centrifuges, with Russia handling the majority of uranium enrichment on its behalf.

“So the outcome would be the European package plus the Russia proposal, and six or seven years of confidence-building on both sides,” he said (Gareth Smyth, Financial Times, June 18).

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki also said Saturday that Tehran would suggest amendments to the incentives package, the Associated Press reported.

“In the end, we will present our proposals. It’s a two-way street,” he said (Ali Akbar Dareini, Associated Press I/USA Today, June 17).

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said yesterday that Iran was “seriously” considering the package, Agence France-Presse reported.

“We do have an opportunity to really move ahead and resolve this issue diplomatically,” he said.

“In my own contacts with the Iranians I consider that they are taking this offer seriously. They are studying it and I hope they will respond in the not-distant future,” he said (Agence France-Presse I/IranMania.com, June 18).

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Saturday expressed hope of a “solid answer” from Tehran in less than two weeks, AP reported.

“So far, we have no solid signal, no real reaction,” Steinmeier was quoted by the weekly Der Spiegel as saying.

“However, it is positive that we clearly are seeing for the first time in Iran a phase of reflection; Tehran always quickly and brusquely rejected previous offers,” he said. “So I hope we are dealing with a changed situation.”

Steinmeier said a “solid answer from Tehran” is expected by the time Group of Eight foreign ministers meet in Moscow on June 29.

“Negotiations could take place if Iran suspends its enrichment activities,” he said. “In exchange, the members of the Security Council would be prepared to suspend their efforts toward a resolution” on possible penalties (Associated Press II, June 17).

Iran yesterday accused the United States of swaying the European Union against a compromise solution to the standoff, AP reported.

“We feel that the Americans are trying to take Europe to a point that the case could not be easily solvable,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi. “The U.S. said it gave a deadline to Iran to respond to the package, but that is not correct. Again, they mix different issues and that is not appropriate” (Nasser Karimi, Associated Press III/USA Today, June 18).

Iran also denied any contradictions in seemingly varying reactions by officials there to the proposal, AFP reported.

“Our stance regarding the … package is quite clear,” Mottaki said.

“The Islamic republic’s officials have said this is a positive step forward. The opinions of both sides must be examined. We will seriously and carefully study the [offer] and will inform them of our suggestions as a response,” he said.

“We have been advised by people like Kofi Annan not to be hasty in giving a response. We will respond whenever a thorough examination is completed and a response is ready,” Mottaki said (Agence France-Presse II/IranMania.com, June 17).

Iran proposed broad dialogue with the United States three years ago, including full cooperation on nuclear efforts, recognition of Israel and ending Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups, the Washington Post reported yesterday.

However, top Bush administration officials who believed the regime in Tehran would soon collapse filed a formal complaint with the Swiss ambassador who relayed the faxed proposal, former administration officials said.

“At the time, the Iranians were not spinning centrifuges, they were not enriching uranium,” said Flynt Leverett, who was a senior director on the National Security Council staff and saw the proposal, which he described as “a serious effort, a respectable effort to lay out a comprehensive agenda for U.S.-Iranian rapprochement” (Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, June 18).

Meanwhile, Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Kerbi today proposed that Middle Eastern nations establish a nuclear research center to help resolve the crisis, AP reported.

“Yemen is calling on all Middle Eastern nations and neighboring countries to set up a joint center for nuclear research in civilian purposes,” he said (Associated Press IV, June 19).
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