Iran says call to suspend enrichment not ‘reasonable’

TEHRAN, July 3, 2006 (AFP) – Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator said Monday the international community’s proposal for Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment was unreasonable, ahead of a key meeting with the EU on the nuclear dispute.

"We have given our opinion before, and we believe it is not a reasonable proposal," he said, quoted by the semi-official Mehr news agency.

The Islamic republic has been offered a package of incentives by the world’s major powers if it agrees to suspend sensitive uranium enrichment — a process in the nuclear fuel cycle that can also make the core of an atom bomb.

Larijani and the European Union’s foreign policy chief Javier Solana are to meet in Brussels on Wednesday on the package, but the Iranian official ruled out any speedy response from Tehran on the proposal.

Earlier, a senior Iranian security official said that Tehran could be flexible in the talks to resolve the nuclear standoff with the West if its "red lines" were respected.

"It is necessary to show some voluntary flexibility that does not violate principles and red lines if the issue is pursued on an acceptable path," Ali Hosseini-Tash, a member of the Supreme National Security Council, told the student ISNA news agency.

Tehran considers enrichment to be its non-negotiable red line, and Hosseini-Tash reiterated that "suspension of peaceful nuclear activities is not a pre-condition" for talks over the incentive package.

The enrichment activities are the focus of concerns in the West that Tehran could acquire nuclear weapons, although the Islamic republic insists the programme is only aimed at generating electricity.

The United States said Friday it expected Iran to respond to the international offer — which it received June 6 — at the Brussels meeting.

"We’ve seen lots of political statements from lots of political figures. We are waiting for the authoritative channel which is the Larijani channel to Solana," US Under Secretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has set August 22 as the date for Tehran’s response.

And Larijani warned that deadlines would "not help" resolve the dispute. "Such a question is not up for discussion" at the meeting in Brussels, said the chief negotiator.

"Once the packet of proposals has been studied, we will announce the result" of Iran’s decision, he said.

Asefi on Sunday insisted the Iranian authorities were not trying to buy time. "It is not a question of tactics and wasting time. It is a multi-dimensional package and takes time to examine," he said.

"There are ambiguities (in the package) which need to be discussed with the Europeans.

"We will submit a logical response considering our country’s rights and interests," said Asefi said, adding that "alleviating the West’s concerns should not be interpreted as sacrificing our interests."

Senior US military officers, meanwhile, have warned the Washington administration that bombing raids against Iran would likely fail to destroy the country’s nuclear programme because of a lack of reliable intelligence, the New Yorker magazine reported Sunday.

Pentagon officers "have told the administration that the bombing campaign will probably not succeed in destroying Iran’s nuclear program", Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh wrote in the magazine’s latest edition.

The officers are concerned about contingency plans to launch air strikes against Iran in the absence of reliable intelligence or concrete evidence of bomb-making, the magazine said, citing unnamed active duty and retired officers and officials.