TEHRAN — World powers urged Iran on Saturday to suspend its controversial enrichment of uranium in exchange for a new package of economic and political incentives. But the proposal appeared to differ little from one rejected in 2006, and Tehran appeared poised to spurn the latest offer as well.
"Iran does not accept any precondition which implies suspension of uranium enrichment," said Gholamhossein Elham, a spokesman for the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
At an appearance in Paris with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, President Bush said Saturday that he was "disappointed that the leaders rejected this generous offer out of hand."
Bush reached out to the Iranian people and accused Ahmadinejad of hurting his own country by refusing to accept the package, though Iran has not formally rejected the offer.
"It's an indication to the Iranian people that their leadership is willing to isolate them further," Bush said. "And our view is we want the Iranian people to flourish and to benefit. We want their economy to be strong so people can grow up in peace and hope; and . . . this Ahmadinejad . . . takes a different position from that."
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana came to Tehran to hand-deliver the package of incentives as the head of a diplomatic team representing Europe, Russia and China. The United States, which does not have diplomatic relations with Iran, did not dispatch a representative. But the package included a letter signed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her British, French, Chinese and Russian counterparts urging Iranian cooperation.
Like Bush's comments, the visit was meant to appeal to the Iranian public and moderates within the government. Solana detailed the newly assembled package of incentives Saturday evening at a news conference in English and Persian at the German Embassy in Tehran.
He urged the Islamic Republic to accept the international community's package of security, economic, political and scientific inducements meant to stave off a further escalation of the confrontation between the West over the Iranian nuclear program.
"We want a fully normalized relationship with your country in all fields, including the nuclear issue," said Solana, flanked by representatives of Russia and China, which are often sympathetic to the Iranian position.
"Iran is a great country," Solana said. "We want Iran to play an important role in the international community."
The latest set of incentives included an awkwardly worded passage that reaffirmed an "obligation" by unspecified countries to "refrain" from "the threat or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state," language that analysts say could be intended to assuage Iran's fears about an attack by the U.S. or Israel but also could refer to Tehran's calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.
Observers said such language was unlikely to move Iran to halt its uranium-enrichment program, which Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes.
"That kind of assurance might have worked in 2003 when oil was at $20 a barrel," said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. "Given the kind of leverage Iran has now, they're looking for something more concrete."
David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security think tank in Washington, said he wasn't convinced that the language was an overture.
"If I was Iran looking at this offer, I would not think it was a security guarantee," he said. "It would be nice if the U.S. would give them a security guarantee, and say that if they suspend enrichment, then nothing else rises to a threat. But they are just not willing."
Iran has consistently argued that nuclear weapons are un-Islamic and says its scattered atomic research and production facilities, all subject to international inspections, are meant to produce electricity to meet its growing population's energy needs.
But U.S. officials, European diplomats and most arms control experts are convinced that Iran's nuclear program is ultimately meant to produce weapons.
Iran has defied four U.N. Security Council demands that it halt its program to enrich uranium ore, a process that can produce nuclear fuel for a power plant or explosive material for a bomb. U.S. and Israeli officials have said that an Iranian atomic bomb would be unacceptable. Although they are now pushing for a fourth round of economic sanctions, they've repeatedly suggested the possibility of military action to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities.
Iran rejected a 2006 incentive package proposed by the five veto-bearing members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany in exchange for suspending enrichment at its facility in the town of Natanz. Among its principal complaints, Iran said the package lacked guarantees that the U.S. would halt what it considered a policy of "regime change" meant to topple the Islamic Republic.
The most powerful Iranian officials, including supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, remain convinced that the Bush administration is trying to employ the nuclear issue as a tool to destroy the Islamic Republic, analyst Sadjadpour said.
"Ultimately, Ayatollah Khamenei believes that U.S. policy is not behavior change but regime change," he said.
"For Khamenei to be disabused of that notion, he'd have to see far more actionable changes in U.S. policy rather than vague written assurances."
Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran and Times staff writer Daragahi from Beirut. Times staff writers Maggie Farley in New York and James Gerstenzang in Washington contributed to this report.