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. Iran says may give nuclear response early August
TEHRAN, July 4 (AFP) Jul 04, 2006
Iran said Tuesday it may give its response to an international offer aimed at ending a nuclear standoff around August 6, but remained firm over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment ahead of a key meeting with the EU on the crisis.

"Our negotiations with the Europeans will be on Wednesday, but it is only the beginning of the talks and our definite response to their proposals will be ready around middle of (the Iranian month of) Mordad," or around August 6, chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani was quoted as saying.

His comments, reported on state television, came ahead of a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday between Larijani and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana to discuss the crisis.

The Islamic republic has been offered a package of incentives by the world's major powers if it agrees to suspend sensitive uranium enrichment -- a process in the nuclear fuel cycle that can also make the core of an atom bomb.

But Larijani had said Monday he considered "unreasonable" the international demands for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment -- a process Iran says it has the right to conduct under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The enrichment activities are the focus of concerns in the West that Tehran could acquire nuclear weapons, although the Islamic republic insists the program is only aimed at generating electricity.

"We have given our opinion before, and we believe it is not a reasonable proposal," Larijani said, quoted by the semi-official Mehr news agency.

A senior Iranian security official had also said Monday that Tehran could be flexible in the talks to resolve the long-running standoff if its "red lines" were respected.

The United States said Friday it expected Iran to respond to the international offer -- which it received June 6 -- at the Brussels meeting, while Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had previously set August 22 as the date.

Last month, US President George W. Bush -- whose administration has not ruled out military action -- turned up the pressure on Tehran, warning of "progressively stronger political and economic sanctions" if it refused to freeze sensitive nuclear activities in return for talks.

The New Yorker magazine reported Sunday that senior US military officers have warned the Bush administration that bombing raids against Iran would likely fail to destroy its nuclear programme because of a lack of reliable intelligence.

The officers are concerned about contingency plans to launch air strikes against Iran in the absence of reliable intelligence or concrete evidence of bomb-making, the magazine said, citing unnamed active duty and retired officers and officials.

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