U.S.: Iran response not acceptable

Iran's response to an incentives package aimed at defusing a dispute over its nuclear program is unacceptable, U.S. officials said Tuesday, making the prospect of new sanctions against the country more likely.

The officials told The Associated Press that a one-page document Iran presented to European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana in Brussels is not, as had been sought, a definitive reply to the offer from major world powers to suspend uranium enrichment and reprocessing in exchange for economic and other benefits.

Instead, the officials said it was a restatement of Tehran's earlier insistence on the right to conduct peaceful nuclear activities and essentially a transcription of portions of recent telephone conversations between Solana and chief Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili.

In the short, English-language document, Iran says it will provide a “clear response” to the offer but only after it receives a “clear response” to questions it has about the incentives, the officials said.

One official described it as “more obfuscation and delay” to the package, which was presented earlier this year by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany.

The officials, who said they were not surprised by the response, spoke on condition of anonymity because Solana's office has not yet characterized the Iranian reply.

In Brussels, an E.U. diplomat said the Iranian reply was being analyzed and would be discussed “very soon” by Solana and senior diplomats from the six countries that made the offer – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

The State Department said those diplomats would hold a conference call today to discuss the way ahead, and the U.S. officials said a discussion of new sanctions on Iran could begin as early as then.

Shortly after Solana's office received the document and forwarded copies by e-mail to the six governments involved, Washington said that anything less than full acceptance of the package would force the grouping, known as the P5-plus-1, to seek new sanctions against Iran.

“We are looking for a clear, positive response from Iran, and in the absence of that we're going to have no choice but to pursue further measures against them,” State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos told reporters.

The offer was reiterated to Iran on July 19, when senior diplomats from the six nations and the European Union met in person with Jalili to set an informal two-week deadline for Iran to either accept or reject it.

The meeting was notable because the Bush administration broke with its long-standing policy and sent the State Department's third-ranking diplomat to the session aimed at proving its seriousness about the package. The United States and others accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian atomic energy program.

Iran is currently under three sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions and could soon face a fourth unless it accepts the incentives package. In addition, the United States, the European Union and individual E.U. members have imposed their own unilateral sanctions against Iranian banks and other institutions.