Iran's Overture Given Short Shrift by Western Powers

Iran presented proposals yesterday which it said were intended to resolve mounting tensions with the west, but western officials said the package did not address the most contentious issue, Tehran's nuclear programme.

Officials from six countries handling nuclear negotiations with Iran, Britain, France, Germany, the US, Russia and China, are due to discuss the Iranian proposals by telephone today.

But Britain made its assessment clear last night, by issuing a statement saying it was still looking forward to an Iranian response to international overtures on its nuclear programme.

The US, Britain and France are expected to spearhead a push for further sanctions against Iran, but it is unclear whether the initiative will be supported by Russia and China at the UN.

Western officials who saw the Iranian document described it as a vague litany of platitudes with no concrete suggestions, littered with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors as if it had been written in haste. There was a heading on trade and investment, but nothing underneath it.

There was no reference to Iran's uranium enrichment programme, which the UN security council has called on Iran to suspend.

The only mention of nuclear issues was a declared aspiration to make the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) fairer and to reform the non-proliferation treaty which is up for review next year.

The Iranian paper was supposed to be a response to an invitation to talks on the nuclear programme from the six-nation group issued in April. It was delivered to ambassadors in Tehran yesterday, only a few days after Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, appeared to rule out compromise over enrichment, saying the matter was "closed".

Iran says its nuclear programme is intended for exclusively peaceful purposes, power generation and experimentation but the west alleges that it is ultimately intended to build weapons.

"We have serious concerns that Iran is deliberately attempting, at a minimum, to preserve a nuclear weapons option," Glyn Davies, the US envoy to the IAEA, said at a meeting yesterday of the agency's board of governors. "Iran is now either very near or in possession already of sufficient low-enriched uranium to produce one nuclear weapon if the decision were made to further enrich it to weapons-grade," he said.The Foreign Office said last night: "We acknowledge receipt of the Iranian paper , and remain committed to a meaningful dialogue to address the concerns of the international community relating to Iran's nuclear programme.

"Our offer of talks on the nuclear issue (made in April 2009) still stands, and we hope that Iran will respond to this as soon as possible."

Source: The Guardian