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2006 Sunday 11 June

Iran sees problems in atomic offer from six powers

CAIRO (Reuters) - Iran on Sunday gave its most negative assessment of proposals offered by six world powers aimed at persuading Tehran to give up sensitive nuclear work that the West fears is being used to make bombs.

Chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said the package offered to Iran last week, which includes both incentives and penalties, contained "problems". In previous comments, he had only referred to "ambiguities" that needed removing.

Details of the package have not been publicly announced and Iran has yet to identify specific items to which it objects, but the deal is premised on the demand Iran abandons uranium enrichment, a step Tehran has previously said was unacceptable.

Iran, the world's fourth largest oil exporter, insists it only wants to enrich uranium to low levels to make fuel for power plants. The West accuses Iran of seeking to purify uranium to the much higher levels needed to make atomic bombs.

"These proposals contain some positive points. At the same time there are problems and ambiguous points," said Larijani, speaking through an Arabic translator after talks at the Arab League in Cairo.

European powers -- Britain, France and Germany -- drew up the package that was approved by the United States, China and Russia. It was delivered to Tehran by European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana on Tuesday.

Some details from the proposals or early drafts have leaked from Western diplomats and other sources and they include offering Iran a light-water reactor and guaranteeing nuclear fuel supplies.

But the offer also includes possible penalties if Iran rejects it, such as imposing travel bans on Iranian individuals, freezing assets and imposing an embargo on arms sales to Iran and some Iranian exports, such as refined oil and gas products.

Larijani, who heads Iran's Supreme National Security Council that has been entrusted with handling nuclear talks, said no deadline had been set for Iran to accept the package.

"It was said that Iran was given a limited time period to agree ... This is incorrect," he said.


President Bush has said Tehran has weeks rather than months to respond and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, whose country currently heads the EU, has said Iran has until the Group of Eight (G8) summit in mid-July.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman told reporters in Tehran that Iran would not be rushed and dismissed charges by some Western critics that Iran was stalling for time.

"We have not been given a deadline ... but that does not mean we are seeking to buy time," Hamid Reza Asefi told a weekly news conference in Tehran.

He also reflected the increasingly negative tone toward the proposals by saying some points in the package "should not exist" and said Tehran would respond with its own proposals.

When he was asked whether Iran would be willing to suspend enrichment during negotiations, as demanded, Asefi said: "We will not abandon our rights under any condition. Our rights are not negotiable. The initiative is in our hands."

Iran usually refers to uranium enrichment as a national right. Since announcing in April that Iran had enriched uranium in small quantities for the first time, top Iranian officials have often insisted Tehran would not now give up this work.

Some Iranian officials have hinted, however, that Iran might negotiate over its plans for industrial-scale enrichment.

Included in the proposals made to Iran is an offer by the United States to join European-led nuclear talks, provided Iran stops uranium enrichment first.

When asked about this part of the offer, Asefi said: "We welcome any negotiations that do not have preconditions."

In Iranian rhetoric "preconditions" also normally refer to the West's insistence that Tehran drop its atomic fuel work.

Analysts see the proposals as a way of giving Iran a last chance before Western powers lobby for tough action against Iran at the U.N. Security Council.

The European states were originally asked to draw up the proposals to help break a deadlock at the Security Council, where Russia and China had been reluctant to back a resolution they said could have led to sanctions or even military action. The United States and European states had backed the draft.

Washington has refused to rule out military action if diplomacy fails.

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