Tehran responds to package

TEHRAN: Iran on Tuesday said it was ready for talks over its controversial nuclear programme, without saying if it would freeze enrichment work. Earlier in the day, Tehran submitted a response to an international package of incentives aimed at ending the long-running standoff.

``Iran is ready for serious talks with the 5+1 group from August 23 over the offered package,'' top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.

The official made the comments to representatives of the so-called 5+1, Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany, which offered Iran the package in return for a halt to nuclear enrichment work.

The report did not say whether Iran would accept the key step in the proposal and suspend enrichment.

Some Iranian officials revealed that the response had offered a ``new formula'' to resolve the nuclear issue, but they did not give details. ``Iran has given an all-sided response to the package, but also raised some questions,'' one of the officials said.

The envoys of the six countries gathered at the building of the Supreme National Security Council in central Tehran to receive the response to the package.

``Iran is prepared as of August 23rd to enter serious negotiations'' with the countries that proposed the package, state-run television quoted Mr. Larijani as telling the envoys.

The world's fourth largest oil exporter insists it will not abandon what it calls its right to enrich uranium for use in nuclear power stations. Western countries fear Iran wants to master enrichment to give it the ability to make atomic bombs.

One European diplomat said: ``The answer was handed over. It is a comprehensive answer. The Iranian side said they would welcome a continuation of negotiations.''

Other diplomats would not immediately comment on the contents of the reply.

``They [Iranians] have handed over the response and we have sent it back to capitals,'' another Western diplomat said.

The U.N. Security Council has given it a deadline of August 31 to halt enrichment or face possible sanctions. Iran has called the deadline illegal and worthless.

The United States, without an embassy in Iran since 1980, was represented by the Swiss embassy. Iranian officials said the reply would pave the way to renewed talks over the nuclear dispute which erupted four years ago. Agencies