EU to tell Iran clock is ticking on nuclear reply
BRUSSELS, July 4 (Reuters) The European Union will tell Iran tomorrow that time is running out for it to agree to enter negotiations on incentives to curb its nuclear activities or face penalties.
Diplomats doubt Tehran will give a firm answer at Brussels talks between its top nuclear negotiator and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, but say UN Security Council action would loom if no answer arrives before major power meetings next week.
An Iranian official said Supreme National Security Council secretary Ali Larijani would bring questions about what Tehran regards as ambiguities in the international package.
''We hope and clearly see the objective of the talks tomorrow is to create the conditions for the start of negotiations,'' Solana's spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said.
''The more clarity we get, the better feedback for the G8,'' she said of a July 15 summit of the Group of Eight major powers in St. Petersburg, to be preceded by talks on Iran among the five top Security Council nations plus Germany next Wednesday.
Washington insists Tehran has had ample time to respond to a package presented a month ago of technology, trade and political incentives for Iran to halt uranium enrichment. The United States wants the G8 summit to take decisions on future action.
Veto-holding U.N. Security Council member China urged Iran today to reply as soon as possible but called on the G8 nations -- the United States, Russia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Britain -- to show patience.
''We hope that Iran will pay attention to the concerns of the international community and respond as soon as possible to the basket of proposals,'' Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a news conference in Beijing.
''We also hope the other sides will exercise patience and restraint and seriously consider Iran's reasonable concerns.'' QUESTIONS, NOT ANSWERS Iran has said it will give its reply by August 22, insisting the incentives offer contains ambiguities it wants to iron out.
Semi-official Mehr News Agency quoted Larijani yesterday as saying deadlines were not helpful and dismissing the crucial demand that Iran suspend enrichment -- a process which can be used in making a bomb -- as a condition for talks to start.
Iran, the world's fourth biggest oil exporter, rejects Western suspicions that it wants to build a nuclear warhead. It insists its nuclear programme is only to produce electricity.
The G8 called last week for ''a clear and substantive response'' at the Larijani-Solana meeting, but expectations for a breakthrough at the meeting are low.
Ali Hosseinitash, head of strategic affairs at Iran's Supreme National Security Council, was quoted yesterday as saying Iran did not intend to give an answer.
Solana's spokeswoman said it was high time Larijani gave Iran's official answer but acknowledged he was likely to come with questions.
''We need to listen carefully to what Larijani has to say. We don't exclude they might ask questions,'' Gallach said.
The package drafted by European powers Britain, France and Germany and the EU, and endorsed by the United States, Russia and China, offers a state-of-the-art nuclear reactor with a guaranteed fuel supply, as well as economic benefits and support for the idea of a regional security framework.
But it is all predicated on Iran stopping uranium enrichment and related activities while negotiations are under way.
REUTERS SRS PC1652