- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The United States and its close allies are pressing Iran for an answer by mid-July to a proposal designed to ease the international crisis over Tehran’s nuclear programs, more than a month sooner than Iran’s president said his country would respond.

Iran is expected to be a main topic of conversation as foreign ministers of the top industrialized nations, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, meet today in Moscow to prepare for the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg, which begins July 15.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested earlier this month that Tehran would not reply until Aug. 22, but the United States and its close allies say the delay is unacceptable. Javier Solana, foreign policy chief of the European Union, presented the still-secret package of incentives and sanctions to chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani in Tehran on June 6.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, in a visit to Tehran over the weekend, told Iranian leaders privately that the August date was unacceptable and that Iran should give its answer before the G-8 summit, Nabi Sensoy, Turkish ambassador to the United States, said in an interview at The Washington Times this week.

“Turkey would be the first in harm’s way” if Iran obtained nuclear weapons, Mr. Sensoy said, “so naturally we are very concerned.”

Both U.S. and Turkish officials say Mr. Gul was not representing the international powers on his Iran visit. But State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said there was a “close convergence” of Turkish and U.S. “interests and priorities” on the Iranian nuclear standoff.

Iran’s Islamist leaders insist their nuclear programs are permitted under international treaties and are meant for civilian energy purposes. But the Bush administration argues that the extensive program — hidden for nearly two decades from international inspectors — is a cover to develop nuclear arms.

Miss Rice, in an interview with CNN yesterday en route to Moscow, again refused to give a hard deadline for Iran’s response, but she warned Tehran against stringing out the talks in order to conduct more nuclear research and development.

“The patience of the international community is not endless on this issue,” she said.

U.S. and EU officials have discounted remarks by Mr. Ahmadinejad and other senior Iranian officials about the proposal, saying they presented the package to Mr. Larijani and will accept an official reply only through him.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told the German magazine Stern that “if everyone maintains good will, talks could begin soon.”

Mr. Mottaki said it would take time to evaluate the offer, which includes trade and diplomatic incentives if Iran suspends its uranium enrichment programs, but did not rule out an answer by the kickoff of the St. Petersburg summit.

But he said Iran would respond only “if we clear up some open questions before then.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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