BERLIN (Reuters) â€” Western powers on Friday gave Iran just weeks to respond to a package of incentives to suspend its nuclear enrichment programme.
The offer, which EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana personally delivered toÂ Tehran last week, was prepared by Germany, France and Britain and is backed by the EU, United States, Russia and China.
US President George W. Bush said that if Iran did not stop enrichment, “there must be a consequence.”
“We’ve given the Iranians a limited period of time â€” you know, weeks not months â€” to digest a proposal to move forward.
â€œAnd if they choose not to verifiably suspend their programme, then there will be action taken in the UN Security Council,” Bush told a news conference.
European Union president Austria earlier said Iran had until next month’s Group of Eight (G-8) summit to consider the offer.
Asked what would happen if Iran did not accept, Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily: “This will be discussed within the framework of the G-8. Iran has until the world economic summit in July to think it over.” The G-8 summit will be held in St. Petersburg, Russia, on July 15-17. Iran’s nuclear ambitions are expected to be one of the main topics of discussion.
The comments represent the first explicit deadline for Iran to respond to the offer.
â€˜They want to deprive usâ€™
Tehran says it wants to produce only low-enriched uranium to generate electricity. But many countries suspect Iran, the world’s fourth-biggest oil producer, seeks to purify uranium to the extremely high levels needed to fuel atomic weapons.
A powerful Iranian cleric used Friday prayers to send a clear message to the six world powers that prepared the offer â€” that they would never stop Iran from making nuclear fuel.
“Now they want to deprive us of many advantages. The package they have brought is a package that is good for themselves and is not appropriate for the Iranian people,” Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati told worshippers in Tehran.
Jannati heads the Guardian Council, Iran’s highest constitutional watchdog. The council does not directly make nuclear policy, a task supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has entrusted to the Supreme National Security Council.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Thursday Iran had this week launched a fresh round of uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for power plants or bombs.
A US spokesman in Washington said the IAEA report underlined the need for major powers to stand firm in pressuring Iran to curb its atomic programme.
The six powers have offered civilian nuclear technology, security guarantees and other benefits if Iran freezes nuclear fuel production. But their offer also threatens economic and political sanctions if Iran rejects the offer.
“There is a chance now, with the way things have changed in the past couple of weeks, to get a diplomatic solution and that’s what everyone wants to see,” BritishÂ Prime Minister TonyÂ BlairÂ toldÂ a news conference in Paris with French President Jacques Chirac.
Chirac added: “We can’t accept that [Iran] carries out a process that could in reality lead to the creation of a nuclear weapon.”