Reuters: Iran would be wrong to believe it will be "off the hook" over its disputed nuclear program during the transition to a new U.S. administration, a U.S. official said on Thursday.
By Adrian Croft
LONDON (Reuters) – Iran would be wrong to believe it will be "off the hook" over its disputed nuclear program during the transition to a new U.S. administration, a U.S. official said on Thursday.
"One thing we all have to worry about is … that somehow the Iranian leadership may think they are off the hook for a period of time," said Gregory Schulte, U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog.
"What they need to understand through our considered diplomacy is that they are not off the hook," he told reporters.
He was responding to a question about whether pressure on Iran over its nuclear program could ease between the election of a new U.S. president in November and his inauguration next January.
The West says Iran's nuclear program is aimed at producing bombs, while Tehran says it is for generating electricity.
Talks in Geneva ended in stalemate last Saturday with six major powers giving Iran two weeks to answer calls to rein in its nuclear program or face tougher sanctions.
"Six more months of Security Council violations is not going to put them (Iran) in any greater favor with any future U.S. president," Schulte said.
"Part of the strategy is to keep them on the hook, but also to make sure that, if we don't get a negotiated outcome, that the next administration, whoever is president, is in the strongest diplomatic position possible to continue work on this," he said.
Republican presidential candidate John McCain has said Washington could not accept a nuclear-armed Iran and backs tougher sanctions against Tehran. He also supports military action if Iran poses a "real threat" to Israel.
Democrat Barack Obama says keeping Iran free of nuclear weapons would be a top priority and he would respond forcefully to an Iranian attack against Israel or any other U.S. ally.
The United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany have offered Iran economic and other incentives in return for suspending uranium enrichment.
But Iran's top nuclear negotiator insisted in Geneva Tehran would not discuss a demand to freeze uranium enrichment.
Schulte said there was a "very generous offer on the table", but as long as Iran did not accept it, "sanctions will stay in place and even build."
New sanctions imposed by the U.S. and European Union and being considered by the EU were "very important to force the type of discussion that seems to be going on in Iran among the elites about: Should they enter into serious negotiations?"
"I think there is a prospect we can succeed diplomatically, but if we are going to be successful it takes sustained pressure, combined with an offer to negotiate, and that's exactly the strategy we have taken," he said.
(Editing by Caroline Drees)