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Germany says Iranian nuclear response appears unsatisfactory

BERLIN (AP) _ Germany said Thursday that Iran's response to a package of incentives for halting its nuclear program appears unsatisfactory because it is missing a reference to whether Tehran will suspend uranium enrichment.

Two senior diplomats who have been briefed on the Iranian response told The Associated Press that the six world powers studying it will likely reject Tehran's terms for talks because they do not even touch on the possibility of freezing enrichment.

The diplomats said the 25-page document from Tehran does not suggest an enrichment moratorium once negotiations start and includes only a vague reference to a willingness to discuss all aspects of Iran's nuclear program. The diplomats, who spoke from two European capitals, asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the confidential Iranian proposal.

The diplomats variously described the reaction to the Iranian reply in the capitals of the six powers as disappointed and even angry because of the lack of response to the main demand _ a freeze on enrichment, which can be used to generate energy but also to make the fissile core of nuclear warheads.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told N24 television that ``we are still examining'' the Iranian response, ``but from everything that I hear we cannot be satisfied.''

None of the six nations has yet to flatly say the Iranian counteroffer is inadequate.

Tehran presented its response Tuesday to the package of incentives, drawn up by the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany. It did not publicly disclose full details of its response.

But two well-informed Iranian academics said it included about 100 questions, including a request for a timetable for the West to implement its incentives package and a query about whether the U.S. is willing to lift some sanctions.

The Security Council has set an Aug. 31 deadline for Iran to halt enrichment or face the possibility of wider economic and political sanctions.

Merkel said Germany and its partners had hoped for Tehran to say, ``'We are suspending our uranium enrichment, we are coming to the negotiating table and we will then talk about the chances and possibilities for Iran.''

``That unfortunately is not the case,'' she said. ``We will call for this to happen in the coming days, but the decisive sentence is missing in this answer,'' she added.

Tehran says its enrichment is for purely peaceful purposes. The U.S. and some allies suspects that the program is cover for making atomic weapons.

Iran maintains it has offered ``positive and clear signals'' to resolve the dispute over its nuclear program.

Abbas Maleki, director of the International Institute For Caspian Studies in Tehran, and Kevah Afrasiabi, an author and political scientist, said in a report distributed by the syndication agency Agence Global that: ``By agreeing to put the issue of suspension of enrichment activities on the table and to commence the talks immediately, Iran has sent a strong signal that the internal debate between power centers in Iran's leadership has ended in favor of voices of moderation seeking a mutually satisfactory resolution of the nuclear standoff with the West.''

The two also said that Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, had declared Iran's willingness to use its influence in Lebanon to facilitate an exchange of prisoners held by Hezbollah and Israel.

The State Department has acknowledged that Iran considered its nuclear proposal to be a serious one and promised to ``review it.''

But a U.S. statement issued Wednesday went on to say that Iran's response ``falls short of the conditions set by the Security Council'' _ full and verifiable suspension of all uranium-enrichment activity.

Among other measures, the benefits include a joint offer of U.S, and European trade and the possibility of U.S. help for civilian nuclear programs.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said President Bush spoke with Merkel by phone Thursday about Iran and the diplomatic effort in reaction to Tehran's response.

Perino would not say whether Bush agreed with Merkel that Iran's response was ``unsatisfactory,'' pointing to Wednesday's State Department statement that it ``fell short.'' And she would not say whether the two leaders were of the same mind about what should be done next.

The administration has told Iran that it will seek unspecified sanctions in the Security Council if Tehran does not step enriching uranium.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy has said Iran must suspend uranium enrichment if it wants to return to negotiations, but Moscow and Beijing have steadily braked U.S-backed efforts to punish Tehran quickly, both as nations in the six-power alliance offering rewards to Iran if it suspends enrichment and permanent members of the Security Council.

The Iranians' offer, which they portrayed as a major advance, appeared to be aimed at least in part at dividing the Security Council members with vetoes _ the U.S., Britain and France on one side and Russia and China on the other.

Still, one of the diplomats told the AP that the lack of Iranian flexibility on enrichment would likely leave even Russia and China no choice but to ultimately endorse U.N. sanctions against Iran.
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