Iran Set to Respond to Offer of Incentives in Nuclear Dispute

Iran will present a formal response today to an offer of incentives by world powers in exchange for suspending its nuclear enrichment program, U.S. and European officials said. But they expressed little expectation of a positive reply.

Chief Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili told European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana in a telephone conversation yesterday that he will provide a written explanation of Iran's position on the two-week-old offer to freeze efforts to impose further economic sanctions and begin substantive talks with Tehran, officials said.

The United States, Britain and France issued statements expressing disappointment that Iran had not met the initial deadline for response on Saturday. "Unless tomorrow's answer is unambiguous and positive, we will have no choice but to proceed with further sanctions," a British Foreign Ministry statement said.

Tehran countered with an announcement that it had tested a long-range naval weapon that it could use to close oil-shipping routes in the Strait of Hormuz, at the entry to the Persian Gulf, if Iran came under attack. The announcement was reported by a semi-official Iranian news agency that attributed it to Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The U.N. Security Council has been pressing Iran to suspend uranium enrichment since March 2006 and has passed three resolutions sanctioning Tehran for refusing to do so. Iran has refused to comply, saying that it is not developing nuclear weapons and that the United Nations has no legal authority to restrict its right to generate nuclear power.

In June, a coalition made up of the council's five permanent members -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- plus Germany offered sweeteners to an existing offer of economic, political and security incentives in exchange for enrichment suspension and negotiations over constraints on Iran's nuclear program. The coalition said it would pursue further sanctions if Iran declined.

With no clear Iranian response, the coalition met with Jalili on July 19. Solana, heading the team that included U.S. Undersecretary of State William J. Burns, made it clear that Tehran had two weeks to answer.

In a weekend telephone conference as the deadline passed, the six agreed to extend it for several days. But "in the absence of a clear, positive response from Iran, we have no choice but to pursue further measures," State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said yesterday.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Sunday that Tehran's nuclear program is in clear compliance with international law, and that his government did not plan to move "one iota" in response to U.N. demand.

Western officials acknowledged yesterday that it may take months for the Security Council to approve a new sanctions resolution, and that there is little sense of urgency at the United Nations. Security Council President Jan K.F. Grauls of Belgium said he has not scheduled any discussion of Iran during August.

One European diplomat said it is unlikely that the council will seriously discuss additional sanctions on Iran before the annual meeting of the General Assembly in New York in late September.

Russia and China, while agreeing to previous resolutions, have been lukewarm about stricter sanctions. A European official described Germany as "wobbly," but, in an interview published yesterday in the magazine Der Spiegel, the country's foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, urged Iran "to no longer play for time, but give us a usable answer to our offers -- stop dallying."

By Karen DeYoung and Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writers
reported from the United Nations.

The Washington Post