The United States criticized Iran's President Wednesday for appearing to reject a European incentives package for ending sensitive nuclear work before it is even presented. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says Iran would not accept any suspension or freeze on nuclear enrichment.
The State Department says the Iranian leader's seeming pre-emptive rejection of the pending European offer is an odd stance that raises questions about his motives in the nuclear confrontation.
Britain, France and Germany are drawing up a package of trade and technological incentives they hope will persuade Iran to voluntarily curb its nuclear ambitions.
But in comments in Tehran, Mr. Ahmadinejad ridiculed the idea, saying it was akin to offering a child candy in exchange for gold, and said Iran would not suspend or freeze uranium enrichment.
At a news briefing here, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said it was puzzling that the Iranian leader would reject the pending offer out of hand without seeing it:
"At this point, we don't know exactly what is behind those statements, whether or not this is a negotiating bluff or this is really the stance of the Iranian government," said Sean McCormack. "The intent, one of the intents here, behind coming up with this package and presenting the regime with the choice is to smoke out exactly what their intentions are."
The strategy of the United States and its European allies is to confront Iran with a choice of accepting the incentives to voluntarily end suspect nuclear activity, or face penalties starting with a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding Iranian compliance.
Senior diplomats of the five permanent Security Council member countries and Germany are expected to meet in London next Tuesday to discuss the incentives package.
The meeting has been postponed from this week. But spokesman McCormack downplayed the notion of conflict between the Western allies and Russia and China. He said the parties are also trying to come up with a strategy that would define next steps in a process that would unfold if Iran rejects the incentives plan.
The incentives deal is widely reported to include a European offer to build a light-water nuclear power plant for the Iranians, who contend their nuclear program is entirely peaceful.
McCormack refused to comment on the alleged power plant offer but did say the United States will not offer Iran security guarantees as part of the package.
He said if Iran spurned the package, the United States is aiming for, at a minimum, a binding Security Council resolution against Iran under Chapter Seven of the U.N. Charter.
It is unclear whether Russia and China will support a Chapter Seven resolution. Both have expressed opposition to sanctions against Iran that could flow from such a measure.