Friday, November 11, 2005

Rice denies report of US-European nuclear offer to Iran

Yahoo News:

Fri Nov 11,12:47 AM ET

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, en route to the Middle East, denied that the United States and Europe had agreed on a new proposal to resolve their nuclear row with Iran and said Washington had enough support to seek UN action.

Speaking to reporters, Rice dismissed a report in the New York Times of a joint effort to head off a confrontation over suspicions that Tehran was seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

"There is no US-European proposal to the Iranians, I want to say that categorically," Rice said. "There isn't and there won't be. We are not parties to these negotiations and we don't intend to become parties to the negotiations."

The Times said Washington had agreed with Britain, France and Germany, which are seeking to wean Iran away from any nuclear arms ambitions, to make a last-ditch offer that would allow Tehran to maintain very small-scale nuclear activities. But the proposal would move all uranium-enrichment activities to Russia, according to the daily, which quoted American and European officials.

Rice again suggested the United States might be amenable to a solution that took control of the nuclear fuel cycle out of the hands of the Iranians, who have insisted their program was strictly peaceful.

"It is a very good way for countries to fulfill their needs for fuel for a civilian reactor without the kind of proliferation risk that is attendant to enriching and reprocessing," she said.

But the chief US diplomat was dubious about what the Times said was a readiness to allow the Iranians to continue converting uranium into UF6 gas, which is a preliminary step towards enrichment.

"We would be very concerned if the Iranians were left with stockpiles of UF6 that could be used in nuclear weapons," she said.

Iran triggered a crisis in August when it effectively broke off negotiations with the so-called EU-3 countries on a package of incentives for restraining its nuclear plans and resumed conversion activities it had suspended last November.

The United States has long been seeking to refer Iran to the UN Security Council for possible action but has been scrambling for support, with key countries such as Russia and China balking.

But Rice was confident the US position would prevail, if necessary when the board of the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meets in Vienna on November 24.

"I do want to emphasize that we believe we have the votes in the IAEA should we decide to try and a call for a referral (to the world body), she said. The IAEA voted in September to declare Iran in breach of its international obligations.

Rice denied an assertion in the Times that she was pushing for a two-week deadline for the Iranians to respond, saying, "I don't talk about deadlines. I believe that it is not the way to conduct diplomacy.

"Obviously there is a meeting coming up on November 24th and we'll have to decide what to do," Rice said. "But this is going to be at a time of our choosing."

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