US: Iran needs time to consider nuke package

Teheran says it contains "positive steps" but also "ambiguities."

solana iran 298.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
solana iran 298.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
US President George W. Bush said Tuesday that Iran's initial response to a package of incentives and threats on the nuclear impasse "sounds like a positive step to me." "We will see if the Iranians take our offer seriously," Bush said in Laredo, Texas, where he was speaking about immigration overhaul. "The choice is theirs to make.
THE IRANIAN THREAT special: news, opinion, blogs and more
"I have said the United States will come and sit down at the table with them so long as they are willing to suspend their enrichment in a verifiable way," Bush said. "So it sounds like a positive response to me." European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana laid out the potential rewards and consequences in a visit to Teheran. He later told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice by phone that the Iranians had said they would need time to consider the proposal, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. Solana called the discussions "very useful and constructive," McCormack said. Bush said in Laredo that he wanted to resolve the issue with Iran diplomatically. "So we will see if the Iranians take our offer seriously," the president said. The administration said it would give Iran "a little bit of space" to consider the package but that the offer is not open-ended. "It's a matter of weeks, not months," McCormack said, echoing the vague deadline set out by Rice before the package was presented to Teheran. US officials would not discuss specifics of the package, saying that Iran needs time to review it and ask questions in private. They also would not characterize the initial, noncommittal response from Iran's top nuclear negotiator. "We want to give this every opportunity to succeed," McCormack said. "The diplomacy, I would say, is at a sensitive stage," he added. "We want to give them a little bit of space to consider what's in the package, both on the positive as well as the negative side." The package includes a promise of western technical help in developing peaceful civilian nuclear energy if Iran stops enriching uranium, a waiver of US legal restrictions to allow export of some agricultural technology, access to US aircraft parts or new Boeing Co. planes to upgrade Iran's aging fleet and US and European backing for Iran to join the World Trade Organization, diplomats and others said. The proposal was agreed on last week by the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia - the five veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany. Those nations would be expected to move for Security Council sanctions such as travel and financial restrictions on Iranian officials if Teheran does not take the deal or if negotiations fell apart. Western officials described the package on condition of anonymity because negotiations among the six nations presenting it were private, and because Iran had not yet replied. Top Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said the initiative contains "positive steps" but also some "ambiguities." Speaking on state television after receiving the proposals from EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Ali Larijani said they had "constructive" talks and Iran would respond after studying the incentives. "The proposals contain positive steps and also some ambiguities, which must be removed," Larijani said. Larijani did not identify what he called the "ambiguities" but he said he had discussed them with Solana. He added that more talks were needed on the incentives assembled by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany at a meeting in Vienna on Friday. "We hope we will have negotiations and deliberations again after we have carefully studied the proposals," Larijani said. Solana, who arrived in Teheran on Monday night, met Larijani for two hours at the Supreme National Security Council building in central Tehran. Journalists were barred from the building. He told reporters at Teheran airport that the West wanted "to start a new relationship on the basis of mutual respect and trust." Solana said he believed the package would "allow us to engage in negotiations based on trust, respect and confidence." The offer agreed on in Vienna on Friday by the US, Russia, France, Britain and China - the five permanent UN Security Council nations - plus Germany, also contains the implicit threat of UN sanctions if Iran remains defiant. In a breakthrough last week, the United States agreed to join in multination talks on the package if Tehran suspends enrichment. Details of the basket of perks and penalties have not been made public. But an earlier draft shared in part with The Associated Press offered help in building nuclear reactors that produce reduced amounts of waste that could be reprocessed for nuclear arms and a guaranteed supply of fuel as well as an offer to supply European Airbus aircraft for Tehran's civilian fleet. Diplomats revealed Monday that Washington has sweetened the offer originally drawn up by France, Britain and Germany by saying it will lift some bilateral sanctions on Tehran such as a ban on Boeing passenger aircraft and related parts if Iran agrees to an enrichment freeze. One of the diplomats also said in the package agreed on Friday, Washington would be prepared to take some "dual-use" technology off its banned list of exports to Iran. The term is used for products and material that have military as well as civilian uses. The diplomat declined to go into details.