The United States and Britain are pressing Iran for a definitive reply to the proposal by major powers offering Tehran incentives to halt uranium enrichment. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett met in Washington Monday in advance of critical meetings on the nuclear issue in Europe.
Rice and her British counterpart are urging Iran to respond affirmatively to the big-power proposal as diplomacy over the Iranian nuclear program enters a potentially-critical week.
European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana is due to discuss the offer with Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani for the second time in as many weeks in Brussels Tuesday.
A day later, Secretary Rice and her foreign minister colleagues from the five permanent U.N. Security council member counties and Germany will convene in Paris to review the Iranian response, if any, and discuss whether to continue pursing negotiations or seek punitive action against Tehran.
The P-5+1 submitted the proposal early last month, offering Iran civilian nuclear aid and other incentives, if it stopped uranium enrichment and returned to negotiations over its nuclear program.
The so-called "carrots and sticks" package contains at least the implicit threat of punitive action against Iran in the U.N. Security Council if it rejects the offer.
At a press appearance with Beckett, Secretary Rice said the proposal would be very beneficial for Iran in energy, trade and other areas, and that it is "really time" that Tehran provided an authoritative answer.
"There are really two paths here," said Condoleezza Rice. "We hope that the Iranians choose the path before them, for cooperation. But of course we can always return to the other path if we need to. And that path as described by the [Foreign] Secretary was of course the path to the Security Council. Now it's our great hope that we are going to get an authoritative answer, but this is something that we're going to take up and consider when we meet in Paris."
The Western powers, and particularly the United States, have said they want Iran to reply before the Group of Eight big-power summit in St. Petersburg next week.
But Iran has been evasive, with some officials in Tehran saying they need clarifications and that a response might not come until late August.
Foreign Secretary Beckett said if Iran has questions about the package, it should raise them now and not further delay the process.
"The Iranians have now had a good time to look very carefully and in-depth at what is, to be fair, a detailed set of proposals," said Margaret Beckett. "They have said on a number of occasions, although not to us, but they have been reported as saying in the media, that there are questions, ambiguities. Fine. Let's get those ambiguities and questions resolved so that we can move toward negotiations."
Iran says it has a right to enrich uranium as part of a nuclear program it insists is entirely peaceful, while the United States and some European allies believe the program has a secret weapons component.