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Iran refuses to give quick response to nuclear offer

Indicates it wants to negotiate terms of incentive deal

TEHRAN -- Iran rejected Russia's and China's calls for a quick response to incentives to suspend its nuclear program, indicating yesterday that it wanted to negotiate the terms of the offer.

The exchange among the three allies occurred a day after diplomats said the United States, Britain, and France would revive a push to punish the Islamic republic with possible UN Security Council sanctions if it does not suspend uranium enrichment and agree to talks on its nuclear program by July 12.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia said he would like talks on the incentive package to start before the July 15-17 summit of the eight wealthiest industrialized nations, but said he thought that was unlikely.

``We would really like our Iranian partners to accept the proposals," Putin said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Beijing hopes Iran will ``respond to the package at an early date," adding: ``The urgent task is to help resume the talks as soon as possible."

Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, restated Iran's position that its response to the offer -- from the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany -- will come in mid-August.

``The August date announced by Iran was based on the necessity for a comprehensive and accurate study of the package and is unalterable," the official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Mottaki as saying.

Mottaki indicated that Tehran hoped to negotiate the terms of the package before responding to demands that include an Iranian freeze of uranium enrichment during any negotiations.

``What can happen until that date [mid-August] is talks between Iran, the European Union, and other countries that contributed in drawing up the package," he said.

The six countries that made the offer want Iran to freeze enrichment before any talks begin.

The United States, Britain, and France are pushing Moscow and Beijing to support them on possible Security Council action -- including sanctions -- if Tehran refuses the package of incentives, which include nuclear expertise and hardware including reactors.

Russia's and China's ties to Iran and opposition to sanctions have hobbled attempts to create a common front in the standoff.

Jiang called on world powers to ``exercise restraint" in the dispute, and Putin's statement appeared aimed at playing down hopes for a breakthrough before the G-8 summit in his hometown, St. Petersburg, where the issue is likely to top the agenda.

Germany's foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said during a visit to Slovenia that he hoped a positive response from Iran would come before the meeting. And Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain told lawmakers, ``I want a response as soon as possible."

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana is expected to press Iran's top nuclear negotiator today to accept the incentives package.

EU officials said yesterday they expected Iran's Ali Larijani to seek clarification of several points of the package -- and perhaps come up with a counterproposal -- instead of formally responding to the offer.

The six nations that endorsed the package in Vienna on June 1 insist that Iran suspend -- but not permanently halt -- its nascent enrichment activities before talks begin. Iran has said it will never give up its right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel, but has indicated that it may temporarily suspend large-scale enrichment to ease tensions.

Uranium enrichment can produce fuel for nuclear power plants or material for atomic bombs. Tehran insists its program is for peaceful purposes only.

Possible UN-mandated sanctions include a visa ban on government officials, freezing assets, blocking financial transactions by government figures and those involved in the country's nuclear program, an arms embargo, and a blockade on the shipping of refined oil products to Iran.

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