TEHRAN, Iran --Iran's foreign minister said yesterday that the government would issue a counteroffer to an incentive proposal by Europe, China and the U.S. to get Iran to give up enriching uranium in the short term.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki confirmed that Iran had received the proposal and would offer its own. "We hope that through shuttle diplomacy we can give our proposal in the form of amendment or package after it is finalized to the other side for examination," he said, according to the ISNA news agency.
Mottaki said, however, that Iran had not defined a time frame for its response.
President Bush said Friday that Iran had "weeks, not months" to respond to the package, which was issued by the five veto-wielding members of the Security Council, along with Germany. "If they choose not to verifiably suspend their program, then there will be action taken in the U.N. Security Council," he said.
Senior diplomats have said the proposal offers economic incentives for Iran to give up enriching uranium in the short term and holds out the possibility that limited enrichment would be allowed years down the road if Iran lives up to strict international controls and goes to the Security Council for permission.
The Associated Press reported that when presented with the details Tuesday, Iran said the package contains "positive steps" but also ambiguities, which it said had to be cleared up. It said it would study the package before announcing its stance.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who conveyed the offer to Iran, said he expected a reply within "weeks," the AP said.
On Friday, a senior conservative cleric maintained that Iran would never freeze its enrichment program. Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, head of the powerful Guardian Council, said in a Friday prayer sermon that Iran "must have uranium enrichment between 3.5 to 5 percent, and they have to accept it."
But Mottaki's comments signaled that Iran was ready to negotiate, even if its counteroffer might try to push back the limits on its nuclear program.
"We will try to reach a bilateral agreement," Mottaki said. "A kind of agreement that will serve the interests of one side and eradicate the concerns of the other side."
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, unexpectedly flew to Egypt yesterday to discuss Iran's nuclear program with Egypt's foreign minister, ISNA reported. "The nuclear program has turned into an international issue, and it will affect the future of all Islamic countries," it quoted Larijani as saying.