Reuters: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Iran on Monday that it faced more sanctions if it defied a two-week deadline to agree to curb its nuclear programme.
By Sue Pleming
SHANNON, Ireland, July 21 (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Iran on Monday that it faced more sanctions if it defied a two-week deadline to agree to curb its nuclear programme.
Rice said Iran was stalling and must give a "serious answer" within the deadline set by six world powers which offered trade and technical incentives if Tehran halts its uranium enrichment. The West fears Iran wants to build a nuclear bomb.
"We are in the strongest possible position to demonstrate that if Iran does not act then it is time to go back to that (sanctions) track," Rice said,
It was her first comment on the subject since Washington broke from usual policy and joined nuclear talks with Iran in Geneva on Saturday.
Rice, speaking to reporters on her way to Abu Dhabi en route to Asia, said the United States would impose more bilateral sanctions on Iran and the Europeans would look at what they could do if Iran failed to meet the world powers' demand.
"The main thing is we will have to start considering what we do in New York," she said, referring to the Security Council which has imposed three rounds of sanctions on Iran.
Envoys from the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain — the so-called sextet of world powers — attended the Geneva meeting.
Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, said at the next meeting Iran would not discuss the demand to freeze its sensitive atomic work which the West fears is aimed at making bombs. Iran says its aims are peaceful.
But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave an upbeat assessment on Sunday. "Any negotiation that takes place is a step forward," he told reporters, according to IRNA news agency.
A senior Iranian official said Iran was ready to respond to any positive U.S. overture but it was unclear whether Washington had decided between diplomacy and force.
The U.S. government was "indecisive about whether to lean on diplomacy or the military option", said Deputy Foreign Minister Alireza Sheikh-Attar, according to the student news agency ISNA on Monday.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, briefed by Jalili in Istanbul on Sunday, said: "There is no reason to be hopeless. The process continues but it would not be right to raise expectations too high."
NO MORE "SMALL TALK"
Rice said Iran's envoy to Saturday's talks, attended by senior U.S. diplomat William Burns, engaged in small talk rather than address the central issue of the sextet offer.
"I understand that it was at times meandering," Rice said.
She said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana "clarified" Iran's choices at the talks.
"It was also a very strong message to the Iranians that they can't go and stall and make small talk and talk about culture and that they have to make a decision," said Rice.
Burns will brief Rice during her one-night stopover in Abu Dhabi, where she will meet her counterparts from Gulf countries, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan on Monday to discuss Iran and other issues.
U.S. attendance at the Geneva talks was an about-face and comes as Washington is considering whether to open an interest section in Tehran, which would allow for diplomatic contact while falling short of diplomatic ties.
The United States broke ties with Iran nearly 30 years ago.
"We are always looking for ways to relate to the Iranian people and to make it easier for them to relate to us," said Rice. She said such a move should not be seen as a thawing of relations.
Rice said there were no plans to join further nuclear talks unless Iran met conditions to give up the enrichment work. She said the decision to join the Geneva talks was to show U.S. commitment to the incentives offer to Iran.
"I think we have done enough to demonstrate that the United States is serious and to assure our partners that we are serious and to show the Iranians that we are serious. I think we have done enough," Rice said. (Editing by Stephen Weeks)