Iran Looks Set to Say No on Nuclear Offer

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

( - Two days ahead of its self-imposed deadline to respond to a nuclear package offered by six leading nations, Iran said Sunday it would not stop enriching uranium, as the international community has demanded.

"Suspension of uranium enrichment is not on our agenda," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told a weekly news conference.

The U.S., Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany last June proposed that if Iran give up its enrichment and reprocessing activities, it would receive a package of economic and diplomatic concessions. Adding to the incentives, the U.S. offered to join multilateral talks with Iran.

The six-nation proposal also held out punitive measures if Iran refused, and Tehran was asked to respond by early July. It refused, however, saying instead it would give its official answer on August 22.

After Iran missed the early deadline, the U.N. Security Council added to the pressure by passing a resolution giving Iran until August 31 to suspend enrichment, or face the possibility of sanctions.

Asefi said that as the six-nation proposal "had several dimensions, our answer will be multi-dimensional too."

Iran claims its nuclear program has purely civilian purposes but the U.S. and European nations suspect its real goal is covertly to develop atomic bombs.

If Iran does reject the offer on Tuesday, any response from the international community will likely await the passing of the Aug. 31 deadline, after which Security Council members would meet again to discuss sanctions.

Should it come to that point, the position of China and Russia will be in the spotlight again. The two have long resisted pressure to impose punitive measures on Iran.

In an interview with Kommersant, Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Russian State Duma International Relations Committee, said any sanctions agreed upon after the end of August would "obviously be diplomatic in character."

It was also possible there would be "restrictions on trade and on investments," he said, but stressed that this would be discussed in the Security Council and no doubt require an additional resolution.

Kosachev said Moscow would object to any sanctions that would "directly worsen the lot of civilians."

Tehran appears to be banking on difficulties arising it attempts to win broad support for sanctions.

Iran, the world's fourth biggest crude oil exporter, has in the past warned that taking a stand against it in international forums could cost countries dearly.

"Iran's influence in the region is clear," Asefi said. "A country like Iran has extensive political, economic and cultural capabilities. Will other countries ignore Iran's capabilities in their political and economic cooperation?"

Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun reported that the Japanese government was hoping that if sanctions are imposed, oil exports will be left off the list, initially at least.

Citing unnamed government sources, it said Tokyo was concerned about the possibility of losing oil supplies from Iran, which account for about 14 percent of Japan's total imports.

Iran earlier launched large-scale military maneuvers and at the weekend test-fired 10 short-range missiles.

The White House said the military exercises were a reminder of the dangers posed by Iran's nuclear intentions.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow