Iran should respond directly to the negotiators involved in a six-nation nuclear energy offer if Tehran wants to discuss the proposal, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday.
Teheran said earlier in the day that the package - drafted by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany - was an "acceptable basis" for talks, and invited world powers for detailed negotiations over its disputed nuclear program.
The response comes four days after Teheran missed a July 12 deadline to respond to the offer, prompting the six powers that drafted the proposal to decide to refer Iran to the Security Council for possible punishment.
Though Group of Eight leaders were expected to discuss Iran's nuclear program at the summit, none directly addressed Iran's initiative Sunday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President George W. Bush discussed Iran's nuclear program in one-on-one talks Saturday, reiterating their support for the six-nation effort.
"There is, indeed, a very good proposal on the table that could be a basis for negotiations," Rice said, responding to news of Iran's announcement with measured skepticism. "There is also a path ahead to the Security Council on which we are now launched, given the outcome of the meeting in Paris, because the Iranians had not responded positively in a timely fashion."
In Teheran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi urged world leaders meeting in Russia for the G-8 summit to engage in dialogue - not threats.
"Dialogue is the correct path. We can achieve acceptable results in this path. The path of extremism and threats is not acceptable - it won't work," he said.
"The G-8 has two options ahead: one is the path of logic and the other the path of extremism. We hope the G-8 group will place logical recommendations on its agenda," Asefi said.
But Rice said the Iranians should contact EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, the envoy who delivered the proposal to Iran last month and has been meeting with Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani.
"If the Iranians want to respond positively, I would hope that they would do so through the channel that is established between the six and the government of Iran, and that is Mr. Solana," she said.
Russian lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev, the Kremlin-linked chairman of the international affairs committee of the lower house of parliament, regarded Teheran's announcement with guarded optimism.
"On the one hand we must hail any readiness by Teheran at least to discuss the proposals of the six nations," he told The Associated Press. "However, on the other hand, unfortunately, we have already witnessed such signals in the past, which then were not followed up."
He suspected Iran of "dragging its feet" to avoid making any unnecessary concessions.
"Iran is playing with fire," he warned. "The international community may one day run out of patience and unfortunately, the point of view of those who call for maybe a tougher stance on Iran may prevail. Iran must clearly understand that."
The plan proposed by the US, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany offers economic incentives and some nuclear technology in exchange for long-term suspension of uranium enrichment, a process that can lead to nuclear weapons.
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