The United States State Department said major powers had agreed on Wednesday to consider more United Nations sanctions against Iran after Tehran gave no concrete reply to their demand that it freeze its nuclear activities.
But Russia’s UN ambassador said Moscow had not set a deadline for Iran to respond to the six powers’ offer to refrain from more UN penalties if Iran froze expansion of its nuclear work.
Iran gave a non-committal reply on Tuesday, and has promised a ”clear response” at an unspecified date.
Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters that dialogue continued, and that Russia, China, the US, France, Germany and Britain would hold talks about Iran’s disputed nuclear programme at a ministerial level in September.
Churkin did not comment on a conference call on Wednesday between officials of the six countries to discuss the next steps.
After the call, State Department spokesperson Gonzalo Gallegos said: ”The P5+1 [major powers] are discussing next steps in the UN Security Council and beginning to consider possible outlines of another sanctions resolution.”
The call came after Iran gave a noncommittal, one-page letter to major powers on Tuesday in which Tehran gave no firm response to the ”freeze for freeze” offer.
”We are very disappointed that Iran has failed yet again to give … a clear answer to the P5+1 generous incentives package. The letter we received yesterday appears to be a stalling tactic,” Gallegos said.
The major powers say they fear Tehran wants to build an atomic bomb. But Iran, the world’s fourth-largest oil producer, insists it is only seeking to master nuclear technology to generate electricity.
Iran has already been subject to three rounds of UN sanctions, but diplomats caution that a fourth one could be hard to push through because of resistance from Russia and China, in particular.
Gallegos said major powers agreed on the call that there was ”no choice but to pursue further measures against Iran”.
But Russia’s Churkin said talks continued. ”We haven’t set any deadlines ourselves for their response and there is ongoing dialogue,” he told reporters. ”Certainly there is a matter which is going to be discussed … by the ministers in September.”
The letter from Tehran said ”Iran is ready to provide a ‘clear response’ to your proposal at the earliest possibility, while simultaneously expecting to receive your ‘clear response’ to our questions and ambiguities as well”.
Referring to the letter, White House spokesperson Dana Perino said: ”We don’t have the decent and responsive statement from the Iranians.”
French Foreign Ministry spokesperson Romain Nadal agreed, saying Iran had not addressed the most basic issue.
”The question posed is clear and calls for a simple answer: Does Iran accept the ‘freeze for freeze’ offer to launch negotiations? It does not require further clarification,” Nadal told reporters in Paris. ”We regret that Iran has once again chosen not to answer clearly despite all the efforts the six have made these past weeks to offer a framework for negotiations.”
A spokesperson for Germany’s foreign minister told a news conference it was important for the six powers to stay unified.
”The German government believes it is important to maintain the unity between the EU3 [Germany, France and Britain] plus 3 [US, China and Russia] and that this unity is an important recipe for the success of our policy towards Iran.”
The major powers have said formal talks on the incentives could only start once Iran suspends uranium enrichment, the part of the programme that most worries the West because it has military and civilian uses.
The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said this week his country could easily close the Strait of Hormuz, a key Gulf shipping route, if it were attacked over its nuclear programme — prompting a warning from the US that such a move would be a ”self-defeating exercise”.
Israeli Cabinet minister Shaul Mofaz, a frontrunner to succeed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, denounced his native Iran on Wednesday as ”the root of all evil” and said its nuclear programme constituted a threat to world peace.
He urged the West to impose stiffer sanctions to pressure Iran to stop its nuclear programme. Israel is widely believed to have assembled the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal. — Reuters