Iran rejects calls to give speedy response to nuclear package

UNITED NATIONS, June 29, 2006 (AFP) - Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on Thursday rejected calls from major powers to give a speedy answer to proposals to end the crisis over Iran's nuclear program.

Mottaki insisted that no response could be given until the end of August.

Foreign ministers of the Group of Eight industrial powers, meeting in Moscow, said earlier Thursday that they want a "clear and substantive" answer next Wednesday when EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani meet.

Speaking at the United Nations, Mottaki said Iran's response "will be clear and substantive. But the proposed package contains questions and ambiguities which must be cleared."

He said Solana may be able to answer some of Tehran's questions, but reaffirmed that the Iranian leadership could not accept or reject the package until the end of August.

"I such such a response will be in August, I didn't say in early or mid-August," the minister told reporters through an interpreter. "I think the time until August is not a long time for submitting a response, and that's very natural and normal."

In Moscow, an official in the US delegation said foreign ministers from the six countries behind the plan would gather on July 12 to evaluate Iran's response.

The plan, drawn up by the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany, offers Iran a package of incentives and multilateral talks in return for halting uranium enrichment, the process that makes fuel for reactors but also atom bomb material.

"It was decided today that the ministers will meet on July 12 in western Europe, maybe in Paris," the senior US official said, asking not to be named.

The five permanent Security Council members are Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.

Iran insists that its nuclear programme is for generating electricity and that uranium enrichment is needed to provide the fuel. The European Union and the United States suspect Iran of hiding a military project.

Larijani himself reiterated Thursday that Iran did not feel bound by any deadline. "There is no deadline, and such talks are media material and are unrealistic," Larijani said.

In February, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported Iran to the Security Council for hiding sensitive nuclear work and losing the confidence of the international community by breaking a suspension of enrichment activities.

In Washington, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, speaking after a summit with US President Bush, said Tokyo shares the US concern over Iranian nuclear proliferation.

"The Iranian issue remains a grave issue for the entire world economy. And Japan wishes to cooperate with the United States and other countries concerned on this matter as well," said the prime minister.

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