Iran will respond in mid-August to the Western incentives for a rolling back of its nuclear programme, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said today.
Meanwhile, US President George Bush said Tehran was dragging its feet.
“We are studying the proposals. Hopefully, we will present our views about the package by mid-August,” Ahmadinejad told a crowd in western Iran in a speech broadcast live on state television.
A package of incentives presented by the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, on June 6 seeks to persuade Tehran to impose a long-term moratorium on uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for nuclear generators or material for atomic bombs.
US President George Bush said today the mid-August timetable “seems like an awfully long time” to wait for an answer.
“It shouldn’t take the Iranians that long to analyse what’s a reasonable deal,” he said at an annual US-European Union summit in Vienna.
Bush underlined that opening negotiations with Tehran, if it accepts the offer, requires that it suspend its uranium enrichment. “We’ll come to the table when they verifiably suspend. Period,” Bush said.
Earlier this week, Bush warned that if Iran rejects the package, it will face UN Security Council action and progressively stronger political and economic sanctions.
Iran’s ruling hierarchy is divided over how to respond. While some leading figures have called for an outright rejection, others have said parts of the package are acceptable but certain points should be changed.
Ahmadinejad’s announcement of a mid-August response means it will come through about a month after the Group of Eight industrialised nations summit, which starts in St. Petersburg on July 15.
President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to the Group of Eight said yesterday that Russia hopes G-8 leaders will adopt a common stance on the Iranian nuclear crisis and energy security at the summit.
Russia and China have opposed any threat of sanctions against Iran if Tehran fails to suspend uranium enrichment.
Ahmadinejad’s government is under pressure from hardliners within the conservative camp to outright reject the entire package.
“The package they have presented is a package good for them. It’s not good for Iran,” said hard-liner Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati in a Friday prayer sermon broadcast nationally.
The package put forward by the Big Five at the United Nations plus Germany seeks to persuade Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment in return for a range of incentives.
It includes some significant concessions by the United States aimed at enticing Tehran to freeze enrichment. The US would provide Iran with peaceful nuclear technology, lift some sanctions and join direct negotiations with Tehran.
The package also pulls back from demands that Iran outright scrap its enrichment programme permanently, seeking instead a suspension. However, it also contains the implicit threat of UN sanctions if Iran rejects the package.
When presented with the proposals earlier this month, Iran said they contain “positive steps” but also ambiguities, which it said had to be cleared up in further talks.
Solana had said he expected a reply within “weeks” and Bush said Iran won’t have months but weeks to reply.
Iran has rejected any deadline saying it will patiently but carefully study the package before coming up with a formal reply.
The response is expected to be decided by the Supreme National Security Council, a body that groups leading politicians, military officers and intelligence figures – all chosen by supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Ahmadinejad again insisted today that Iran won’t give up its right to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel.
“We want full use of our definite and legitimate rights. Today, our nation, relying on its competent youth, has achieved proficiency in the whole cycle of nuclear fuel,” the Iranian president said, addressing thousands of people in Hamedan, a city in western Iran.
Ahmadinejad said the era of coercion is over in modern history.
“We won’t retreat from our rights one iota .. open your eyes. What happened to the British Empire? ... the era of the rule of empires has come to an end.”