Iran shrugs off deadline for an offer aimed at defusing a confrontation over its uranium enrichment programme.
Iran ignores nuclear deadline
Iran has shrugged off a deadline for an international offer aimed at defusing a confrontation over its uranium enrichment programme, putting it sharply at odds once again with major powers who question its nuclear ambitions. Last month, the United States, the European Union and other major powers said they would delay seeking tougher UN sanctions if Iran agreed to freeze the programme, which some believe is a cloak for developing nuclear weapons. But their two-week deadline for a reply to the offer passed yesterday without official word from Tehran, which had rejected any notion of a deadline and insists that its nuclear programme is intended to meet the energy needs of its expanding population of 66 million people. "There is nothing new [from Iran]," Reuters news agency quoted an unnamed EU representative as saying in Brussels. Nevertheless, the official counselled patience. "One should not focus on the deadline too much ? what matters is that we get a clear answer quickly; it's not a matter of one day," the official said. Yesterday there were signs the pressure would now increase. "It's unfortunate the Iranians have not responded ? it just further isolates their country," said Dana Perino, the White House press secretary. "We will be consulting with our allies." Yesterday, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany's foreign minister, was more emphatic: Iran must stop playing for time and deliver a "clear answer" to the other incentives offered in June by the so-called "P-5+1" - the permanent members of the UN Security Council - the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France - plus Germany. "Stop dallying," the weekly Der Spiegel magazine quoted Mr Steinmeier as saying. "This is a clear offer that deserves a clear answer." The spurned deadline followed hints that Tehran and Washington were keen to keep the rhetoric from spiralling out of control. In what was hailed by some as a major shift in policy, Washington sent a senior diplomat to last month's talks in Geneva, where he shared a table with Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, and Saeed Jalili, Iran's negotiator. Yet as the deadline approached, the statements again turned tough. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, boasted last week that Iran has 6,000 centrifuges for enriching uranium, nearly twice the number the country had only a few months ago. On Friday, he declared the republic would "stand against" its enemies with its "power". The White House weighed in tartly, too. "Negative consequences await if they don't have a positive response to our very generous incentives package, and that would possibly come in the form of sanctions," Ms Perino said in Maine, where the president had retreated for the weekend. Shaul Mofaz, Israel's deputy prime minister, stoked the oratorical furnace further, telling a think-tank audience in Washington on Friday that Iran was heading towards a major breakthrough. "As soon as 2010 [Iran] will have the option to reach [uranium production] at military levels," said Mr Mofaz, adding that this would be an "unacceptable" development. All the talk came against a background of elections and political transition. Mr Mofaz, an Iranian-born, right-wing member of the Kadima Party, is a leading candidate to succeed Ehud Olmert, who announced last week he would step down as prime minister in September amid allegations of corruption. Iran is scheduled to hold presidential elections next March, and Mr Ahmadinejad is expected to run for re-election. email@example.com