Iran: Our nuclear program remains unchanged
Official implies uranium enrichment to continue; Iranian response to incentives package sidesteps nuke issue.
An Iranian government spokesman on Saturday said his country's nuclear program remains unchanged, indicating that Tehran has no plans to meet the West's central demand that it stop enriching uranium.
Gholam Hossein Elham's statements came just a day after Iran sent the European Union its response to an international proposal to curb its program in exchange for economic incentives. The content of the response has not been made public.
"Iran's stand regarding its peaceful nuclear program has not changed," Elham told reporters.
Israel, the U.S. and some of its allies fear that Iran's enrichment program could produce nuclear weapons. Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes.
Elham added that Iran is ready to talk about its nuclear program within the framework of the international rules and regulations.
Though the nature of Iran's response to the incentive package has not been made public, a European official, speaking on condition of anonymity for discussing confidential information, did not describe it as a breakthrough.
"It was not something that made us jump up and down for joy," said the official. "We are in a holding mode until we get a chance to look at it more closely."
Meanwhile, the European Union's foreign policy chief is willing to meet Iran's chief negotiator soon, after Tehran replied to the package of incentives, an EU spokeswoman said on Saturday.
She said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana held first telephone consultations on Saturday on Iran's written response to proposals he delivered to Tehran last month on behalf of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.
"One of the things to decide is to meet (Iranian national security chief Saeed) Jalili, and if so when. In principle, the position is to respond favourably," Solana's spokeswoman, Cristina Gallach, told Reuters.
She said Jalili had requested such a meeting in a telephone call with Solana on Friday in which he stressed "common ground."
Iranian response to incentives package sidesteps nuke issue
Also Saturday, the New York Times quoted officials charging that Iran's response to the package of incentives ignores the key issues.
Officials said that the response to the proposal does not address the request of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and the EU that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment activities.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said in the response that Iran would be willing to engage in comprehensive negotiations with the EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and the world powers which offered the incentives.
"The time for negotiating from the condescending position of inequality has come to an end," the Iranian minister said, according to the New York Times. Sources involved in the diplomatic effort stressed that he failed to address any of the proposals the incentive package includes.
The officials also said that Mottaki called the sanctions imposed on Iran by the UN Security Council "illegal" and noted they were creating "lack of trust," resulting from "the duplicitous behavior of certain big powers."
The governments of the global powers involved declined to comment on the substance of Mottaki's letter.
A White House spokesperson said the U.S. intended to study the response and discuss it with Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China before responding formally.
Western officials expressed mixed feelings about Iran's response. "There is nothing new in it," said one, but others remained hopeful, citing the fact it was not a downright rejection of the incentives.
Government spokesman Gholamhossein Elham told a weekly news conference that "Iran's stance has not changed [on uranium enrichment] and we are ready to hold talks on the common points of the P5+1 incentives package and Iran's package."