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. Rice maintains deadline on Iranian nuclear response
WASHINGTON, July 5 (AFP) Jul 05, 2006
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice maintained Wednesday a mid-July deadline for Iran to accept an offer of incentives aimed at curbing its nuclear ambitions.

Leaders of the Group of Eight major industrial powers had been expecting to examine Iran's response at a meeting in Saint Petersburg starting on July 15, but, as in the past, Iran resisted all attempts to set a calendar.

Rice said Wednesday that "we still intend to have a substantive response from Iran before the middle of July when the heads of state will meet in St. Petersburg.

"It simply makes sense for the world to have some kind of indication of whether Iran intends to pursue the negotiated track or not," she told a joint press conference with Turkey's visiting deputy prime minister and foreign minister Abdullah Gul.

Rice also referred to a meeting scheduled Wednesday between Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana but which had been postponed to Thursday on Larijani's request.

The meeting was aimed at finding out whether Iran is ready to accept the international package of economic and political incentives in return for suspending its uranium enrichment program.

"We will see what takes place over the next couple of days," Rice said.

"But if, indeed, Iran is trying to stall, it's not going to work. The international community has said that we need to get an answer, an indication of where Iran is going with this.

"We need to know if the path of negotiation is open or not," the top US diplomat said.

Rice said she would discuss with several of her counterparts the Iranian nuclear issue later Wednesday and advised Tehran "to take what is a very good offer and respond to it."

Under the offer, the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany affirm Iran's right to develop nuclear energy, support its building of light water reactors and provide for enrichment to take place in Russia.

It would see Tehran's access to international markets and capital improved and give backing for it to join the World Trade Organisation, among other incentives.

In return, Iran would suspend all enrichment-related activities, which have sparked fears it may be trying to build a nuclear weapon, and accept wider inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The sticking point is that the Islamic republic considers enrichment to be a non-negotiable "red line."

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