China, Russia on board in sweetened offer to Iran
Hans Blix: Heavy nearby American military presence spooks Iran
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VIENNA, Austria (CNN) -- Six world powers Thursday agreed to "substantive" incentives in an attempt to coax the Islamic republic into abandoning its uranium enrichment.
In a move aimed at ending the diplomatic standoff over the program, the five veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council, along with Germany, agreed on a "set of far-reaching proposals" that will form the foundation for resuming talks with Iran, said British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett.
The package still hinges on Iran halting its nuclear enrichment program -- a demand Tehran scoffed at earlier Thursday.
"We believe that (the proposals) offer Iran the chance to reach a negotiated agreement based on cooperation," Beckett said. "We urge Iran to take the positive path and to consider seriously our substantive proposals, which would bring significant benefits to Iran." (Watch Beckett announce the plan -- 1:30)
The incentives proposal follows U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's meeting with foreign ministers from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia in Vienna, Austria, the headquarters of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency.
The United States initially frowned on the idea of talking directly with Iran, but Rice said Thursday that the U.S. altered what seemed to be an adamant policy because the U.S. "might be able now to add weight to the negotiating track by joining these discussions." (Watch the U.S. strategy on Iran -- 2:23)
Beckett did not provide details of what the group planned to offer to the Iranians. A senior U.S. State Department official said the details were being withheld until European diplomats could present the offer to Iran, which will probably happen within the next few days. Iran will have "weeks" to respond, the official said.
If Iran agrees to suspend its nuclear reprocessing and enrichment activities, potential Security Council actions against the Islamic republic will be suspended, Beckett said. If Iran refuses, "further steps would have to be taken in the Security Council," she said without elaborating.
The announcement appears to mark the first time China and Russia have been on the same page as Washington regarding the issue.
Though the consequences of Iran refusing to halt enrichment weren't laid out, China and Russia's agreement to the deal is key.
The two countries have hesitated to call for sanctions on Iran in the past, and both could veto any Security Council resolution punishing Iran for refusing to stop its enrichment and reprocessing activities.
President Bush said earlier Thursday that he was trying to persuade the Chinese and Russian presidents to endorse sanctions in the event Iran continues enriching uranium.
A senior State Department official said after Beckett's announcement that the U.S. "got the deal we came here to get."
Beckett's announcement came as former weapons inspector Hans Blix submitted a 225-page report to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan stating that Iran should stop its uranium-enrichment program, but it probably won't.
"(Iranians) see 130,000 American soldiers in Iraq, and they see American bases in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, and more American military activities to the north of them," he said, adding that Iran remembers well the foreign-born coup of 1953 that ousted Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq.
The Blix Commission, whose work was funded largely by the Swedish government and the private Canadian-based Simons Foundation, also stated that Iran should not be singled out and that nations like Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt and Israel should also be included in "a weapons-free zone."
The Simons Foundation calls itself an advocate for peace and disarmament. Blix oversaw the U.N. investigation into whether Iraq had biological and chemical weapons.
Despite Iran's insistence that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes, the United States and its European allies fear the nation is attempting to develop nuclear weapons.
Iran ended its voluntary cooperation with the IAEA in February, which included ending surprise inspections of its nuclear facilities.
Iran said in April that it used 164 centrifuges to produce energy-grade uranium, but experts say thousands of centrifuges are needed to produce the necessary concentrations for a nuclear bomb.
Iran plans to start building 3,000 centrifuges by year's end, a process that would take at least three years, according to the Institute for Science and International Security, led by former U.N. nuclear inspector David Albright.
Inalienable nuclear rights
As the world powers met in Vienna on Thursday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman urged the foreign ministers to "respect our right" to a peaceful nuclear energy program.
"If they do not try to prevent Iran to have and to exercise their right, well then, we will see a different horizon," said Hamid Reza-Assefi.
According to Article IV of the IAEA's Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, "Nothing in this treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the parties to the treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination."
It also states that countries with nuclear technology should share equipment and information with those that don't have it, "especially in the territories of non-nuclear-weapon states party to the treaty."
Rice said Thursday that the United States acknowledges the right of the Iranian people to civil nuclear energy, but the country's history of violating its commitments and working on a secret nuclear program mean it must now "persuasively demonstrate" that it is not pursuing nuclear weapons.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also has raised concerns with his assertions that the Holocaust never took place and that Israel should be wiped off the map.
'Litany of phrases'
Earlier Thursday, President Bush again threatened U.N. sanctions as Iran turned down the United States' Wednesday offer to negotiate directly with the U.S. and its European allies.
Saying the proposal offered no "new and rational solution" to the issue, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran would talk only if the U.S. dropped its precondition that Tehran halt uranium enrichment, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency.
He further called Rice's offer to talk a "litany of phrases" and said the U.S. was offering to talk only because it wishes to avoid further isolating itself after the mistakes it made in Iraq, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
"The U.S. should be accountable for thousands of mistakes it has made in Iraq and the entire region," IRNA quoted Mottaki as saying. "The U.S. made the offer of incentives to others in order to materialize its own demands, which reflect its conceitedness."
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