Bush: Iran spurns new offer on uranium

President Bush accused Iran on Saturday of rejecting a new set of incentives to stop enriching uranium.

“I am disappointed that the leaders rejected this generous offer out of hand,” Bush said during a joint news conference with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France. “It is an indication to the Iranian people that their leadership is willing to isolate them further.”

Tehran did not formally reject the offer, meaning that it may be able to play for time, saying that it is in an ongoing dialogue with the West while continuing to enrich uranium to secure the amounts necessary to build a nuclear bomb.

But the response was far from warm. The new package was handed to the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, by the European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana. Mottaki said Iran's response would depend on how the West responded to Iran's May 13 proposal calling for international talks on all issues and improved international inspection of Iran's nuclear facilities. But Iran's proposal does not mention the key Western demand – that Iran stop enriching uranium.

A copy of the two-part document was made available to The New York Times.

Should Iran accept the proposal, talks would start with a six-week mutual “freeze” period to establish the good will of both sides, according to the text.

The six world powers – France, Britain, Germany, Russia, China and the United States – “will refrain from any new action in the Security Council,” while Iran “will refrain from any new nuclear activity.”

The timetable was first proposed to Iran in early May 2007, but its details had not previously been made public.

As before, the new proposal recognizes Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy. It pledges to support construction of modern light-water reactors, to arrange for the timely provision of enriched fuel and to cooperate in trade, energy, agriculture, the environment and civil aviation.

But with Russia and China reluctant to endorse harsher sanctions against Iran, and with oil prices at record levels, assuaging the pain of Iran's damaged economy, Western officials are examining other punitive moves against Iran that could be taken by a “coalition of the willing” outside the United Nations.

Analysts suggest those could include a naval embargo of the Persian Gulf or the refusal to supply Western-made technology required for Iran's oil industry, creating bottlenecks in Iran's oil production. But even these measures would take months to negotiate and put in place.