- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2006

SHANGHAI — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said yesterday a U.S.-endorsed incentive package was a positive step toward resolving the standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s remarks were the highest-level sign that Iran was preparing to negotiate over the package, which calls for negotiations with the United States and other incentives if Iran freezes its uranium-enrichment program.

“Generally speaking, we’re regarding this offer as a step forward, and I have instructed my colleagues to carefully consider it,” Mr. Ahmadinejad told reporters after meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao in the commercial hub of Shanghai.

Shortly afterward, Mr. Ahmadinejad also said Iran was not afraid of an Israeli attack to stop its nuclear program. He also repeated assertions that the Nazi Holocaust was unproven, saying it should be independently investigated.

“An event that has influenced so many diplomatic and political equations of the world needs to be investigated and researched by impartial and independent groups,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said.

The hard-line president has previously dismissed the Holocaust as a “myth” and said Israel should be “wiped off the map.”

Iran has sent mixed signals about the incentive package — also backed by three European countries, Russia and China — ever since it was offered last month. On Thursday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was quoted on state television as saying: “The Islamic Republic of Iran will not succumb to these pressures.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s remarks in Shanghai capped his appearance at a regional security summit dominated by Russia and China, two countries that have argued strongly in the U.N. Security Council against sanctions to compel Iran to stop uranium enrichment, which can produce fuel for nuclear power plants or material for atomic weapons.

Also yesterday, EU leaders urged Iran to give an early positive response to the package of incentives and penalties.

Leaders did not specify a deadline for Tehran’s response but urged Iran to take the “positive path” being offered, according to a draft statement on conclusions agreed to yesterday, on the second and final day of an EU summit.

British officials said that although Tehran needs adequate time to consider the offer, the position may harden if Iran does not offer a formal response by the Group of Eight foreign ministers’ meeting in Moscow on June 29.

In Shanghai, Mr. Ahmadinejad said a response to the package will come “in due time in line with the international interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” He gave no indication as to whether the country would consider suspending enrichment during negotiations.

American and European officials in Vienna, Austria, on Thursday urged Tehran to freeze enrichment and stop withholding information about its nuclear program.

The chief U.S. delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Gregory L. Schulte, warned that if Iran rejected the incentives, it could face “the weight of the Security Council.”

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