TEHRAN/WASHINGTON - Iran delivered a letter to world powers
on Tuesday but gave no concrete reply to a demand to freeze its
nuclear activity, a defiant step the United States said amounted
to "obfuscation" and could lead to more sanctions.
Iran handed the letter to European Union foreign policy
chief Javier Solana in response to an offer in June by major
powers that they would refrain pursuing more U.N. penalties if
Iran froze expansion of its nuclear work.
Extracts of the one-page letter obtained by Reuters showed
Iran gave no firm reply to the offer but instead promised a
"clear response" at an unspecified date.
"Iran is ready to provide a 'clear response' to your
proposal at the earliest possibility, while simultaneously
expecting to receive your 'clear response' to our questions and
ambiguities as well," the letter said.
"Such mutual clarification can pave the way for a speedy
and transparent negotiating process with bright prospect."
The major powers say they fear Tehran wants to build an
atomic bomb. But Iran, the world's fourth-largest oil producer,
insists it is only seeking to master nuclear technology to
"It is more of the same from the Iranians -- obfuscation
and delays," said one U.S. official, who asked not to be named
because he was not authorized to talk about the letter. "It was
not the type of response the international community was
U.S. State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos warned of
"additional measures" against Iran and said the United States
would join a conference call with other senior officials from
China, Russia, France, Germany and Britain on Wednesday when
the major powers would decide how to proceed.
Tehran has repeatedly refused to halt its atomic work,
prompting the U.N. Security Council to impose three rounds of
penalties on Iran since 2006. The United States also maintains
its own sanctions against Iran.
Diplomats cautioned it would be difficult to pass a fourth
round of Security Council sanctions against Iran because of
reluctance from Russia and China, as well as Germany.
One Western official who had seen the letter said it added
"absolutely nothing" and that Tehran made no concrete proposals
to resolve the impasse.
The official said the letter also failed to provide any
real response to the offer from the major powers of trade,
financial and diplomatic incentives in exchange for an Iranian
freeze of its uranium enrichment activities.
An Iranian official had also told Reuters the letter did
not address the demands by world powers.
"The letter handed over is not an answer to the offered
package. The letter does not mention the freeze-for-freeze
issue," the official said.
The freeze proposal was seen as a step to full
negotiations. But the Iranian official said the idea also had
not been raised in telephone talks on Monday between Solana and
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili.
"During the call, Jalili expressed his readiness to start
formal talks," the official said, adding he expected further
contact between Solana and Jalili in the next few days.
The six powers have said formal talks on the incentives can
start only once Iran suspends uranium enrichment, the part of
the program that most worries the West because it has military
and civilian uses.
In another development, a U.N. nuclear watchdog official
will go to Iran on Thursday. The International Atomic Energy
Agency declined to specify the purpose of the visit by Olli
Heinonen, its deputy director overseeing inspections of Iran's
The head of Iran's Revolutionary Guards said on Monday the
country could easily close the Strait of Hormuz, a key Gulf
shipping route, if it were attacked over its nuclear program --
prompting a warning from the United States.
"Shutting down the straits and closing off the Persian Gulf
would be a sort of a self-defeating exercise," Pentagon
spokesman Geoff Morrell said on Tuesday.
"I don't think it's in Iran's interest," he told reporters.
"They have a very weak economy at this point, which depends
almost entirely on their oil revenue."