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Gulf Nations to Send Delegates to Iran

May 21, 2006

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ Arab Gulf nations plan to send an envoy to Iran to press it to find a negotiated solution to its nuclear standoff with the United Nations in a new diplomatic effort after months of staying on the sidelines, officials said Sunday.

The foray comes at a sensitive time. Iran said Sunday it was waiting to see what offer the Europeans present to resolve the confrontation _ taking a somewhat more open tone than staunch rejections voiced by officials in recent weeks.

Gulf governments, most of them close U.S. allies, have been wary of taking an active role in the dispute. Though they have little desire to see a nuclear Iran, they also fear angering their powerful neighbor by siding too openly with the United States.

But the Gulf Cooperation Council, a gathering of the region’s Arab nations, will send Omani Foreign Ministry Youssef al-Alawi to Tehran in coming days to relay Gulf concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, and its hopes that the standoff with the West would end peacefully,″ Khaled al-Jarrallah, the undersecretary of Kuwait’s foreign ministry, told The Associated Press.

In Kuwait, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said the Gulf Cooperation Council ``is starting its own diplomatic initiative in order to reopen the channels to a diplomatic solution.″

At a press conference with Steinmeier, Kuwait Foreign Minister Sheik Mohammed Al Sabah said the envoy aimed ``to get Tehran to (agree to) comprehensive cooperation with the international community.″

``The nuclear activities in the Gulf region are a real concern, not just a virtual concern,″ he said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. has not offered a guarantee against attacking or undermining Iran’s hard-line government in exchange for having Tehran curtail its nuclear program.

``Iran is a troublemaker in the international system, a central banker of terrorism. Security assurances are not on the table,″ Rice said in Washington.

Rice, appearing on Sunday news shows, said European officials have not asked the U.S. for security guarantees as they discuss options for dealing with Iran. She did not say what the U.S. response would be if asked to provide such an assurance.

``What we’re talking about is a package that will make clear to Iran that there are choices to be made,″ she said on ``Fox News Sunday.″

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told CNN’s ``Late Edition″ that he believes Iran is just a few months rather than a few years from acquiring the technological expertise needed to build a nuclear bomb.

The five U.N. Security Council nations plus Germany are working on a draft proposal that would offer Iran an end to council pressure and offer economic incentives if Tehran agrees to suspend uranium enrichment. But if Iran refuses, it would face sanctions backed by the threat of force.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki cast doubt on the deal Saturday saying ``suspending nuclear activities goes against our legitimate rights″

But on Sunday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said Iran will respond to the European proposal once it officially receives it.

``One should not be hasty,″ he told reporters. ``However, any package has to guarantee Iran’s rights. ... The basis of our work is clear. We won’t get back to the past. We won’t stop uranium enrichment.″

The Security Council has demanded Iran stop enrichment, a crucial process that can produce either fuel for a reactor or material for a nuclear warhead. The United States accuses Iran of seeking to produce weapons, though Iran insists it intends only to generate electricity.

Iran has insisted it will never entirely give up enrichment. But it suspended the process in November 2004 as a gesture to boost negotiations with Europe and to avert U.N. sanctions. It resumed enrichment in February 2006 after it was referred to the Security Council by the U.N. atomic watchdog agency.

There was no immediate Iranian confirmation of the visit by the envoy from the Arab Gulf nations.

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AP correspondents Diana Elias and Frieder Reimold in Kuwait and Lara Sukhtian in Dubai contributed to this report.