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. World powers give cool response to Iran nuclear offer
WASHINGTON, Aug 23 (AFP) Aug 24, 2006
World powers reacted coolly Wednesday to Iran's response in the dispute over its nuclear program, with the United States warning it fell short of UN demands and France insisting Tehran immediately suspend uranium enrichment activities.

Some 24 hours after Iran said it was willing to negotiate over its nuclear program, US State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said Washington was still consulting with fellow UN Security Council members on how to respond.

"We acknowledge that Iran considers its response as a serious offer, and we will review it," Gallegos said.

"The response, however, falls short of the conditions set by the Security Council, which require the full and verifiable suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities," he said.

"We are consulting closely, including with other members of the Security Council, on next steps."

The Security Council adopted a resolution last month giving Iran until August 31 to freeze its uranium enrichment program or face sanctions.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said Tehran was ready for "serious talks" but no details were made public of the document in which it responded to a package of incentives offered by world powers in return for a moratorium on enrichment by an August 31 UN deadline.

Iran was responding Tuesday to incentives provided on June 6 by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China designed to entice Tehran to abandon uranium enrichment in return for various concessions, including help developing a civilian nuclear power industry.

Tehran's reply offered to hold immediate "serious talks" on the matter, stopped short of accepting a freeze to uranium enrichment, a process which could lead to production of nuclear weapons.

The United States and other powers suspect the nuclear program is a smokescreen for an attempt to produce a bomb. Enrichment can make fuel for nuclear power stations or be extended to create the core of atomic weapons.

However, Iran, the world's fourth-largest oil producer, insists it is purely for peaceful power generation and that it has the right to the technology as a signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Iranian government spokesman Gholamhossein Elham said Tehran was "waiting for a logical and just reaction from the great powers (but) we are ready to face any situation.

"If there is no international (negotiating) partner or a climate favorable to fair negotiations, we will react accordingly."

Elham, speaking prior to the US response, declined to say whether Iran might accept a short-term suspension of enrichment.

"We cannot enter into the details of the response ... because we have decided not to talk through the media and to follow the matter through diplomatic channels."

However, he said: "Nothing has changed. We will continue our research activities, but we want understanding and dialogue."

France, meanwhile, insisted future talks would depend on a freeze. Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said Wednesday "our hand is still extended. The Iranians know the rules of the game: first a suspension of sensitive nuclear activities."

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last word on all key policy issues, said Monday Iran was determined to press ahead with its nuclear program.

But an Iranian official who asked not to be named insisted: "We can discuss all the items of the proposal; this is a sign of flexibility on Iran's part."

The response from the countries behind the offer to Iran remained muted. The White House warned that a nuclear-armed Iran would be "dangerous" to the world.

Russia, which is building Iran's first nuclear power plant, said it would continue to press for a political solution and wanted to keep the UN nuclear watchdog -- not the Security Council -- at the center of the process.

China's special envoy to the Middle East, Sun Bigan, said that Beijing sought a "peaceful settlement rather than resorting to force or threatening sanctions".

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said he would remain in contact with Larijani, adding that the Iranian document "requires a detailed and careful analysis".

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the Iran issue in telephone talks late Wednesday while Bush and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke by telephone with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who was expected to travel to Tehran next week.

As the Security Council deadline nears, International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors are in the final stages of preparing a report that will dispel any doubts about Iran's uranium enrichment work.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei is to report back to the Security Council on Iran's compliance and if it is deemed to have failed, the Council will consider adopting "appropriate measures" under Article 41 of Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, which sets out enforcement powers.

But an Iranian news agency reported Wednesday that Iran would soon announce a nuclear breakthrough which would "highlight its mastery of different areas in nuclear science and reinforce Iran's position as a nuclear country".

In Washington, a US congressional committee meanwhile warned Wednesday of "significant" gaps in US intelligence on Iran, a scenario it said precluded confident assessments on Tehran's weapons of mass destruction programs.

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