- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2006

MOSCOW — The Group of Eight leading industrialized countries yesterday demanded a “clear and substantive” response from Iran next week to an offer of incentives to stop enriching uranium.

The foreign ministers of the six counties that authored the proposal said they will meet to assess Tehran’s position on July 12. Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, is scheduled to hold talks with Javier Solana, the foreign policy chief of the European Union, on Wednesday.

An Iranian official said any response is unlikely before August.

“We are disappointed by the absence of an official Iranian response to this positive proposal,” the G-8 foreign ministers said, after a meeting in Moscow to prepare for a heads-of-state summit in St. Petersburg in two weeks.

“We expect to hear a clear and substantive response to these proposals at the planned meeting of Javier Solana … and Ali Larijani on July 5 and to bring these discussions to a rapid conclusion,” they said.

The G-8 did not say what would happen if Tehran did not respond next week. United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and Russia are members of the G-8.

The Western powers had not previously set any public deadline for Iran to respond to their offer of incentives. However, the Turkish ambassador in Washington, Nabi Sensoy, told The Washington Times this week that Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, in a visit to Tehran last weekend, told Iranian leaders privately that the West wanted an answer before the G-8 summit.

A senior State Department official traveling with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Moscow said the goal of the July 12 meeting, most likely to be held in Paris, will be “to make a basic decision about which way this is going” ahead of the G-8 summit.

When the five permanent U.N. Security Council members — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — and Germany agreed on the proposal on June 1, Washington said it wanted a response “within weeks, not months.”

The Iranians have been sending conflicting signals about the offer since it was presented to them by Mr. Solana on June 6. Iranian officials said last week that they would reply by Aug. 22, but all six countries indicated they were not willing to wait that long.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki yesterday dismissed the Wednesday deadline, saying Iran needed clarifications from Mr. Solana before it could respond.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran is seriously and carefully reviewing the proposed package,” Mr. Mottaki said at the United Nations in New York. “Questions and ambiguities on the Iranian side are pending. Therefore, we welcome the discussions and negotiations for clarification of those ambiguities.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Mottaki told the German magazine Stern that Tehran may respond before the July 15-17 G-8 summit.

In exchange for Iran abandoning its uranium enrichment program, the package offers peaceful Western nuclear technology, the lifting of some sanctions, trade opportunities, U.S. spare parts for Iran’s aging fleet of aircraft and U.S. participation in negotiations with Tehran.

The G-8 ministers declined to discuss what would happen if Iran’s response was negative. Such a development is likely to divide the major players because Russia and China are opposed to sanctions.

“We did not discuss anything beyond the offer which we all made in good faith to Iran, which is a positive offer, and we expect a positive, official, specific response to this,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

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