MOSCOW—Expressing growing impatience, the Group of Eight industrialized nations on Thursday called on Iran to respond next week to a month-old offer of incentives for Iran to freeze its nuclear work. Iran replied that it had questions about the deal and couldn't respond until August.
The G-8 foreign ministers, meeting to prepare for next month's G-8 summit in St. Petersburg, said Iran should provide a "clear and substantive" response to the proposal by July 5. They said in a statement that they were disappointed that Iran hasn't yet replied.
Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, is scheduled to meet July 5 with top Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said his government was reviewing the proposal but would need more information from Solana before it could respond.
The proposal would give Iran assured access to civilian nuclear power, sales of passenger aircraft and other benefits if it freezes work on uranium enrichment. Iran says its enrichment program is only to produce low-enriched uranium for civilian power reactors. The United States and others suspect its real goal is to produce highly enriched uranium for weapons.
Iran has admitted hiding its nuclear program from the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors for 18 years and purchasing weapons-related know-how from an international smuggling ring. The IAEA says Iran still hasn't answered all questions about its nuclear programs.
The United States offered in May to join negotiations with Iran for the first time if Iran agrees to the package.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her colleagues attempted to increase pressure on Iran by announcing that countries negotiating with Tehran will meet on July 12 to take stock of the diplomatic initiative.
If they decide then that the process isn't heading toward negotiation, the United States might push to return the issue of Iran's nuclear program to the U.N. Security Council and seek to impose sanctions, said a senior State Department official, who insisted on anonymity to discuss diplomatic strategies.
Iran's top cleric, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, said Tuesday that Iran was willing to discuss its nuclear activities, but that it wouldn't freeze uranium enrichment and had no interest in talks with the United States.
The meeting of the G-8—Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States—took place against the backdrop of a rapidly deepening confrontation between Israel and the Palestinians, sparked by the abduction of an Israeli soldier in the Gaza Strip.
Israel on Thursday arrested dozens of lawmakers and Cabinet members from the Hamas faction, which controls the Palestinian government and is widely seen as a terrorist group.
Rice and her colleagues called for the Israeli soldier to be released, but also urged Israel to show restraint in its response and avoid harming civilians.
"The detention of elected members of the Palestinian government and legislature raises particular concerns," the ministers said.
"We are asking Israel to exercise restraint in this circumstance, because with restraint we can perhaps get back to a place where there will be hope for the peace process," Rice said at a news conference.
The G-8 summit in St. Petersburg will be the first hosted by Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin's restrictions on political and press freedoms and Moscow's increasingly high-handed tactics toward some former Soviet states have led some U.S. lawmakers to call for President Bush to boycott the meeting or seek Russia's expulsion from the G-8.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said concerns about Russia's direction weren't discussed at Thursday's meetings.
The increasing tension between the United States and Russia was evident nonetheless.
Rice and Lavrov, who have a history of prickly relations, sparred verbally throughout the press conference on issues from democracy to energy, each seemingly determined to get in the last word.
An audio feed from the ministers' closed-door lunch that was inadvertently left on and heard by journalists revealed the Russian and American diplomats negotiating vigorously over the text of a statement on Iraq, frequently interrupting each other.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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