- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 4, 2006

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday said Iran had weeks, not months, to respond to U.S. and international incentives designed to persuade the Islamic republic to dismantle its nuclear program.

“I’m not one for timelines and specific schedules, but I think it’s fair to say that we really do have to have this settled over a matter of weeks, not months,” Miss Rice said in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.” “We are absolutely satisfied with the commitments of our allies to a robust path in the Security Council should this not work.”

The United States has agreed to join multinational talks with the Iranian regime as well as offer undisclosed incentives, but it says Iran first must agree to abandon its nuclear efforts. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has speculated that Iran is “months rather than years” away from producing a nuclear weapon.

“This package is put together in a way that guards against a kind of extended set of negotiations while the Iranian program continues,” Miss Rice said. “No one among these six powers is prepared to let this simply drag out with Iran continuing to make progress on its nuclear program.”

Meanwhile yesterday, Iran’s supreme religious leader threatened to disrupt the world market if the United States makes “any mistake” against Iran. Miss Rice downplayed the threat.

“If you make any mistake, definitely shipment of energy from this region will be seriously jeopardized,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said to Western nations in a speech broadcast live on Iran’s state radio. “You will never be able to protect the energy supply in this region. You will not be able to do it.”

He did not say how oil supplies would be disrupted, but that Iran would not be “the initiator of war.”

Iran is the world’s fourth-largest oil exporter and second-biggest among members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, and Miss Rice noted Tehran’s dependence on its oil exports.

“Well, let’s just remember that Iran is some 80 percent dependent on oil in its budget,” she told CNN’s “Late Edition.” Tehran is thus “not really able to live … with a disruption as well.”

“I don’t think this is the time to react to every statement that Iran makes,” she added, declining to speculate on any U.S. response to an Iranian embargo.

She also declined to outline the specific incentives offered to Iran last week or on penalties if Tehran does not respond to the entreaties from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

“We have agreed, as the six parties, that we’re not going to talk about what is on either of those paths,” Miss Rice told CNN. “It is only fair that this now be a serious proposal to the Iranians that they can see without reading about it in the newspaper. And I’m going to honor that commitment to our partners.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Saturday that he was open to a breakthrough and welcomed unconditional talks with all parties, including the United States.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the U.S. diplomatic offer to Iran “a very positive step.”

Asked what would happen if Iran rejects the offer, Mr. Biden, said, “I think at a minimum, it will keep the world united and move toward a Security Council resolution that maybe holds everybody together and adds additional sanctions from other countries. That may have an impact.”

Mr. Biden said he thinks war with Iran would be a mistake. “The one way to unite the 71 million Iranians with a government they do not like would be to attack them.”

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

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