Iran defies calls for early nuclear reply
BRUSSELS, July 6 (Reuters) Iran defied calls today for an early reply to an offer of incentives from major powers aimed at ending a stand-off over its nuclear plans, despite growing international impatience.
The European Union is due to hold preliminary talks with Iran today and more detailed discussions next Tuesday in which it expects a formal response to a package of technology, trade and other incentives to halt uranium enrichment.
But Iran ruled out any breakthrough at the meetings between its chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
''The Tuesday meeting is just for removing ambiguities. Iran will not give its definitive answer at this meeting,'' an Iranian official, who requested anonymity, told Reuters.
Major powers have said they want a reply from Tehran by a July 15 Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg at the latest.
Tehran insists it will not give its answer before August. 22.
Iran postponed talks with Solana in Brussels yesterday in apparent anger at an exiled opposition leader's visit to the European parliament, but added that Larijani would meet Solana for a private dinner today.
Diplomats say that as Russia and China are unlikely to back any UN sanctions against Iran at this stage, there is little pressure on Tehran to respond either at the Brussels talks or before the G8 summit in Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin urged Tehran to speed up its reply today but said talk of sanctions was premature.
''To wait endlessly is counter-productive, but it would be more counter-productive to drive this problem into a dead-end and that is why I would not speak about sanctions at the moment,'' he said on an interactive webcast in Russia.
FUEL GUARANTEES The United States has accused Iran of having a secret programme to build nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charge, saying its nuclear programme is solely for power generation.
''(If Iran is) trying to stall, it's not going to work,'' US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday.
The five permanent, veto-wielding U.N. Security Council members -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- plus Germany have offered Iran a state-of-the-art nuclear reactor with a guaranteed fuel supply, economic benefits and support for the idea of a regional security framework if it halts uranium enrichment.
The head of the UN nuclear watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei told private Turkish TV channel NTV he did not believe Iran was yet in a position to build a nuclear weapon and there was time for talk and diplomacy.
ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said military intervention was not an option and the only lasting solution was through diplomacy.
He told CNN Turk TV that no one questioned Iran's right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
REUTERS SHB RK2138