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Iranian reply to atom offer seeks timeline: Report

Written by: Staff

Vienna, Aug 24: Iran's reply to a big power offer of incentives to end sensitive nuclear work asks for a timeline to implement the package and specifics on security arrangements, two Iranian experts said in a Web site report today.

The account by the Iranian academics, one of whom has had good connections to Iranian officialdom, appeared the first to detail some of some 100 questions Iran posed in a response it touted as an opening to talks to end a standoff with the West.

Washington said on Wednesday Iran's request for talks fell short of a U N Security Council demand that it stop enriching uranium by Aug 31 or risk sanctions. But it said Iran saw its reply as serious and that major powers would study it further.

Western diplomats and Iran alike have withheld details of the 21-page response other than to say Tehran had ruled out suspending enrichment as a precondition for talks but said it would discuss doing so in negotiations.

Academics Abbas Maleki and Kaveh Afrasiabi, in a report distributed by the Agence Global news and opinion syndicate, said Iran's response asked for a definite timeline for the promised trade and technology incentives.

They said Iran wanted a brief reference in the incentives packet to a possible Iranian role in a regional security arrangement - a critical concern for the Islamic Republic given U S hostility to its current leaders - to be fleshed out.

Iran also asked, they said, why the package mentioned Iran's obligations to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty but not to an NPT article pertaining to a country's ''inalienable right'' to acquire peaceful nuclear technology.

Further, Iran had requested firm guarantees on offered nuclear technology assistance, such as the sale of light-water reactors, as well as a nuclear fuel supply from abroad.

Is US willing to ease sanctions?

''Iran also seeks clarity on the status of (existing) US sanctions that prohibit offers of nuclear and technology assistance to Iran -- is the US willing to lift some if not all of those sanctions?'' Maleki and Afrasiabi said.

They said Iran further asked for specifics in a promise of a cooperation accord between Iran and Euratom, a European Union treaty dealing with issues of nuclear energy.

Iran says its nuclear fuel enrichment drive aims only to generate electricity. Western leaders suspect the programme is a front for mastering the means to make atomic bombs.

Although Iran ruled out immediate suspension, its response left the door open for credible talks and ''perhaps an acceptable resolution of the nuclear showdown for all parties,'' the two Iranian experts wrote.

''By agreeing to put the issue of suspension on the table and commence talks immediately, Iran has sent a strong signal that the internal debate between power centres in Iran's leadership has ended in favour of voices of moderation seeking a mutually satisfactory resolution of the nuclear standoff.'' Maleki heads the International Institute for Caspian Studies in Tehran and is currently a visiting researcher at Harvard University in the United States. Afrasiabi is the author of ''Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts versus Fiction''.

Iran has called for serious talks in the past while pressing ahead with enrichment research and development, drawing Western accusations of delaying tactics and bad faith.

Analysts say Iran's complex and nuanced answer to the big powers' overture was probably meant to divide Security Council members Russia and China, important trade partners of Tehran, from the United States, Britain and France, which have mooted tough sanctions. All five have a veto on the Council.


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