- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 10, 2006

TEHRAN — Iran will make a counteroffer in response to a Western incentive package aimed at persuading Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment, the foreign minister said yesterday.

The counteroffer may be a variation of the proposal made by Europe, the United States, China and Russia or could be an entirely new package, Manouchehr Mottaki said, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.

“We hope that Iran’s real proposal, which might come within a modified or new package, will be examined carefully by Europe,” he said.

He did not elaborate on how the Iranian proposal might differ from the Western package.

“We intend to take steps toward a comprehensive understanding that considers the rights of one side, Iran, and resolves the concerns of the other side at the same time,” Mr. Mottaki said. “Iran has begun examination of the European package and it will officially respond to the European side.”

Meanwhile, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, briefed Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Tehran’s position on the proposal during talks in Cairo, a statement from the Egyptian side said. Mr. Larijani and Mr. Gheit were to meet again today, it said.

The package put forward by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany aims to restart negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

It included some significant concessions by Washington aimed at enticing Tehran to freeze enrichment. The United States would provide Iran with peaceful nuclear technology, lift some sanctions and join direct negotiations with Tehran.

The package also pulls back from demands that Iran outright scrap its enrichment program as an initial condition for negotiations, seeking a suspension instead. However, it also contains the implicit threat of U.N. sanctions if Iran remains defiant.

When presented with the details Tuesday, Iran said the package contains “positive steps” but also ambiguities, which it said had to be cleared up in further talks. It said it would study the package before announcing its stance.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who conveyed the offer to Tehran, said he expected a reply within “weeks.”

On Friday, European Union president Austria said Iran had until next month’s Group of Eight summit to consider the offer. The G-8 summit will be held in St. Petersburg July 15-17.

President Bush also indicated a similar deadline. “We’ve given the Iranians a limited period of time — you know, weeks not months — to digest a proposal to move forward,” Mr. Bush told reporters Friday.

Iran has consistently refused to give up enrichment, a process that can produce either fuel for a nuclear reactor or the material for a nuclear warhead. Iran insists its program is peaceful and that it has the right to enrichment — though it has signaled it might compromise on large-scale enrichment.

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