US hopes Iran proposals 'constructive'

Israeli spokesman: Ahmadinejad playing for time; US IAEA envoy: Iran nearing atom bomb capability.

ahmadinejad in the sky with diamonds 248 (photo credit: )
ahmadinejad in the sky with diamonds 248
(photo credit: )
Iran presented world powers on Wednesday with a proposal for new talks with the West, though Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has ruled out negotiations over uranium enrichment, the UN's central concern regarding his country's nuclear program. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki gave a package of proposals to diplomats representing the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany in a meeting in Teheran attended by journalists. The proposals come as the UN nuclear watchdog agency is holding a meeting in Vienna, Austria. The IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei has said his agency is locked in a "stalemate" with Iran and has urged Teheran to "substantively reengage" with the Vienna-based watchdog to prove there are no military dimensions to its nuclear program. US President Barack Obama and European allies have given Iran until the end of September to take up an offer of nuclear talks with six world powers and trade incentives should it suspend uranium enrichment. If not, Iran could face harsher punitive sanctions. The Iranian proposal came even as Glyn Davies, Washington's chief envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the latest report by the nuclear watchdog shows that Teheran was either very near or already in possession of sufficient low-enriched uranium to produce one nuclear weapon, if the decision were made to further enrich it to weapons-grade. "This ongoing enrichment activity... moves Iran closer to a dangerous and destabilizing possible breakout capacity," Davies told the agency's 35-nation board of governors. "Taken in connection with Iran's refusal to engage with the IAEA regarding its past nuclear warhead-related work, we have serious concerns that Iran is deliberately attempting, at a minimum, to preserve a nuclear weapons option," Davies said. Israel, meanwhile, said that Iran was playing for time. "As expected, Iran is again trying to buy more time, and it is no coincidence that it presented its answer at the very last minute," said Yosi Levy, the Foreign Ministry's spokesman for the Israeli press. Levy said that even though it was necessary to carefully study Iran's proposals, "Iran's known record and the spirit of the Iranian proposal does not attest to a willingness for true dialogue and an intention to respond positively to the demands of the international community and Security Council resolutions," Levy said, adding that the "period of evasion has ended." Levy said it was the international community's responsibility to prevent Iranian nuclearization, and that it was necessary for the international community to use "all means at its disposal to bring about a real change in Iran's policy on this decisive issue, and not allow Iran continue to squeeze more time out of the hour glass." Teheran's envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh told reporters in Vienna on Wednesday that "The basis of negotiation will be this package." He did not, however, divulge any details. Soltanieh also reiterated that his country was ready to clear up questions. "Regarding Iran's nuclear issue, if there are any questions or ambiguities, we are well prepared to remove ambiguities in the context of the IAEA," he said. In comments to the board earlier, Davies stressed that Iran in contrast to its claims is far from addressing all of the IAEA's concerns. But Davies also said the US welcomed constructive, honest engagement with Iran to resolve the issue and added he hoped that Teheran will take "immediate steps to restore international trust and confidence." "This is a fresh, new opportunity for Iran to turn the page, come back to the negotiating table and prove that it is a responsible, trustworthy member of the international community," Davies said. ElBaradei, meanwhile, stressed Wednesday that dialogue was key to breaking the "logjam" and urged Teheran to accept the offer to talk. "To me, the offer by the US is an offer, as I say, that should not be refused, that cannot be refused because it has no condition attached to it and is built on mutual respect," ElBaradei told board members. "We can spend days and nights here talking about this issue but unless we talk to each other and not at each other we will not move forward," he said. But Ahmadinejad said Monday that Iran considered the nuclear issue closed and rejected any halt to enrichment. He said Iran was proposing to hold negotiations over a range of "global challenges" but the only nuclear issues that it was willing to discuss were mechanisms to ensure the global use of peaceful nuclear energy, to promote disarmament and to halt nuclear proliferation. Iran state radio, reporting on the package Wednesday, said "Iran is ready to... help ease joint international concerns over the nuclear issue," but did not elaborate. A high-ranking Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday that ELBaradei showed a "stronger" tone toward Iran's noncompliance with the IAEA this week when he issued his "oral report" to the board of governors than he did in last week's IAEA written report. The official termed the written report as "too soft." He said ELBaradei's choice of the word "stalemate" suggested a new focus on the Iranian problem and its recalcitrant behavior. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has reportedly cut short his planned attendance at the upcoming UN General Assembly by a day-and-a-half to avoid sitting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. According to Channel 10, Netanyahu "doesn't want to be in the same room as a Holocaust denier who calls for the destruction of Israel." The Prime Minister's Office would not confirm the report. Benjamin Weinthal contributed to this report from Berlin