Reuters: Iran's softer tone towards an offer of nuclear incentives made by world powers may be a bid to buy time rather than a shift to accept a key demand to halt nuclear work, analysts and diplomats said.
By Edmund Blair – Analysis
TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran's softer tone towards an offer of nuclear incentives made by world powers may be a bid to buy time rather than a shift to accept a key demand to halt nuclear work, analysts and diplomats said.
Despite an unusually public debate about how Tehran should respond involving some senior Iranian politicians, there have been no official indications of any readiness to suspend uranium enrichment — the demand on which a deal ultimately hinges.
"Signals seem to be a bit better (than before the proposal was presented) but we don't see any big change from the Iranian side," said one European diplomat.
Iran initially sent a clear response to the offer.
On June 14, the same day European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana handed over the offer from six powers in Tehran, a government spokesman rejected the suspension of enrichment, a process the West fears Iran wants to use to make atomic bombs.
But Iranian officials now sound more conciliatory. Even President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been uncharacteristically quiet after earlier insisting Iran would not give in to "bullying powers" over nuclear plans Tehran says are peaceful.
Some Western diplomats detect a more positive approach from Iran and say any knee-jerk public statements have turned to more careful reflection. "There is a debate," said one.
However the diplomat said it was not clear Iran would accept suspension or even a "freeze-for-freeze" idea to get preparatory discussions going, a step involving Iran freezing expansion of nuclear work in return for world powers halting moves to add to three rounds of U.N. sanctions already imposed.
An Iranian official, speaking on condition of anonymity to Reuters last month, said time was on Iran's side.
"We will review the package but not the part about enrichment freeze … We are moving forward with our work and Iran's nuclear capability is being constantly augmented," said the official, who was involved in talks with Solana in Tehran.
Iran said in 2006 it was considering a similar offer by world powers but rejected it in the end, a maneuver diplomats at the time saw as time wasting. Some see the same pattern now.
The European diplomat said Iran may make counter offers without halting atomic activities, like allowing more U.N. inspections, he said. "All these (options) mean more time for them to keep doing what they've been doing," he added.
But analysts say there are indications the Iranian leadership — with ultimate authority lying with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — believes Iran has to soften the confrontational approach epitomized by Ahmadinejad.
"I think they realize the propaganda warfare they launched some time ago has reached a point that it is no longer helping them and now they have to be more tactful with what they say," said an Iranian analyst, who asked not to be named.
"Iran's policy is always to buy time," he said, adding that at least "the chances of accepting some version of a freeze or suspension are now stronger than the past".
But no policy shift, if it comes, would be soon, he said.
Khamenei tends to make decisions by consultation and consensus, analysts say. He has publicly backed the president's handling of the nuclear file, but there are influential officials who say Ahmadinejad's fiery speeches have harmed Iran.
Such a view was reflected in an interview to a newspaper by the foreign affairs adviser to Khamenei, Ali Akbar Velayati, an unusually public statement by someone so close to the leader.
"Officials … should avoid illogical and provocative sloganeering," he said in remarks clearly aimed at Ahmadinejad.
"The P5+1 counts on every word of such speeches and slogans. We have to speak out with more care," he said, referring to the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.
Those comments and some conciliatory remarks from Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki have sparked chatter among Iran observers — and even in Iran's parliament — about whether there is a bigger shift on the cards from the Islamic Republic.
According to the newspaper Kargozaran — a moderate daily — parliamentarians were buzzing with talk of "accepting the West's proposed package", the timing of negotiations and suspension.
Velayati stopped well short of suggesting such a step in his interview, insisting there should be no negotiations with "preconditions" — usually Iran's shorthand for suspension.
He later said "some Western media" had misinterpreted his newspaper interview when they said he backed accepting the package, the state broadcaster's website reported.
(For the latest Reuters Global News blog on Iran, please go to: here what-lies-beneath/)
(Additional reporting Parisa Hafezi and Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Samia Nakhoul)