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Iran responds to big powers' nuclear offer

4/07/2008 - 20:03

By Hashem Kalantari

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran responded on Friday to anincentives package offered by six world powers aimed atresolving a standoff over its disputed nuclear ambitions.

There was no word on the content of Iran's reply --submitted to EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana -- to theoffer of talks on economic and other benefits if Tehran haltsnuclear work the West suspects is aimed at making bombs.

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, told Solanaby telephone that Tehran had prepared its response byconcentrating on common ground between the two sides and with a"constructive and creative outlook."

The two agreed to hold further discussions later thismonth, Iranian state radio said.

Iran's official IRNA news agency said the country'sambassador to Brussels presented its reply to Solana, whoseoffice later confirmed it had received it.

The offer of trade and other incentives proposed by theUnited States, China, Russia, Germany, Britain and France waspresented to Iran by Solana last month.

The six powers have told Iran that formal negotiations onthe offer, which includes help to develop a civilian nuclearprogramme, can start as soon as it suspends uranium enrichment.

Iran has said it is willing to enter talks about thepackage but has repeatedly rejected demands to stop suchnuclear work, which can have both civilian and military uses.

BUYING TIME?

The dispute over Iran's nuclear activities has sparkedfears of a military confrontation and contributed to oil pricesrising to record highs.

Analysts and diplomats say they detect a softer tone fromIran towards the nuclear incentives offer, but that this may bea bid to buy time rather than a shift to accept world powers'key demand of a halt to uranium enrichment.

They say it is also uncertain whether Iran might accept a"freeze-for-freeze" idea to get preparatory talks going.

Such a step would involve Tehran freezing expansion ofnuclear enrichment in return for world powers halting moves toadd to three rounds of U.N. sanctions already imposed.

Enriched uranium can be used as fuel for power plants butalso, if refined much more, provide material for nuclear bombs.

The incentives package proposed by the six powers is arevised version of an offer spurned by Iran in 2006, whichincluded civilian nuclear cooperation as well as wider trade inaircraft, energy, high technology and agriculture.

Iran, the world's fourth-largest oil exporter, says itsnuclear programme is solely aimed at generating electricity sothat it can sell more of its oil and gas.

An Iranian official, speaking on condition of anonymity toReuters last month, said time was on Iran's side.

"We will review the package but not the part aboutenrichment freeze ... We are moving forward with our work andIran's nuclear capability is being constantly augmented," saidthe official, who was involved in talks with Solana in Tehran.

(Additional reporting by Mark John in Brussels; Writing byFredrik Dahl; Editing by Diana Abdallah)

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