Financial Times: Iranian officials reacted cautiously to plans
by Britain, France and Germany for a new incentive package to win Tehran's agreement to complete suspension of its
nuclear programme before a meeting on November 25 of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Financial Times

By Gareth Smyth in Tehran and Guy Dinmore Washington

Iranian officials reacted cautiously to plans by Britain, France and Germany for a new incentive package to win Tehran's agreement to complete suspension of its nuclear programme before a meeting on November 25 of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Hossein Mousavian, foreign policy chief of the Supreme National Security Council, and Hamid Reza Asefi, foreign ministry spokesman, expressed Iran's willingness to negotiate while stressing Tehran would not give up its right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. The officials said Iran had not received the new European proposals, which were discussed by the Group of Eight industrialised nations on Friday and are expected to be passed to Iran this week.

Diplomats in Washington said Tehran would be offered a "last chance" to avoid referral to the United Nations Security Council only if it agreed to an IAEA resolution requiring it suspend all activities related to uranium enrichment.

At the G8 meeting, the US defended its wish to refer Iran to the Security Council as a first step towards sanctions. To avoid a schism in the G8, John Bolton, US undersecretary for arms control, indicated the US would not endorse the European proposal but would not stand in its way. Canada's position was close to the US.

If Iran agrees to suspend its enrichment activities - and diplomats were sceptical - then the European Union proposes a second stage of discussions over the supply of nuclear fuel for Iran's Bushehr plant under Russian construction. This proposal, which would deny Iran control of enrichment, would be unpalatable in Tehran but would be sweetened by the EU renewing talks on a trade and co-operation deal and supplying advanced technology.

The timetable is complicated by the US elections, with Iranian officials unwilling to boost President George W. Bush's re-election campaign by an early agreement. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential challenger, has said Washington should join Europe in offering concessions.

A further complication is that Iranian negotiators face considerable domestic opposition to further concessions. The Tehran Times newspaper yesterday mocked the idea of importing enriched uranium and Brigadier-General Mohammad Firouz-Abadi, chairman of the joint military staffs command, argued imported fuel would cost at least 10 times as much as fuel produced from Iran's own uranium ore.