AFP: The United States on Wednesday called for "punitive" measures against Iran over its reponse to the international offer to persuade it to freeze its nuclear programme.
BRUSSELS (AFP) — The United States on Wednesday called for "punitive" measures against Iran over its reponse to the international offer to persuade it to freeze its nuclear programme.
The threat came ahead of new talks between the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia on the latest Iranian letter to the powers on its controversial nuclear programme.
The United States and its allies were to press for new UN Security Council sanctions, according to US media reports. But Russia and China could resist the move, diplomats said.
"In the absence to a positive response to the generous offer that we provided for our incentives package, we think that the allies will have no choice but to take further measures that would be punitive, given that we don't have a decent and responsive statement from the Iranians," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.
"I think that the Iranians have long stalled on responding to the allies, so I think the most important thing we can do is let the political directors have their conference call and decide on their next step," Perino said, speaking on a jet taking President George W. Bush on an Asian tour.
The French foreign ministry also said Iran had not given the "response that was hoped for" in a letter which demanded more details on the international offer.
The UN Security Council has already ordered three rounds of sanctions against Iran. The United States says Iran is a weapons proliferation threat, while Iran insists that its nuclear research is for peaceful purposes.
However a European diplomatic source warned that it was "important not to break the chain of the negotiations, or we will face a difficult dynamic not only with Iran".
An acceptable step would be to send a double message of possible further sanctions but also of reconciliation, the source said. "We can't deny to the other party the right to pose questions if there are problems."
"The message at the end of the telephone conference will probably be an agreement for an explanatory mission and at the same time a firm message with the threat of new sanctions".
Iran's latest letter to the international powers, delivered Tuesday, says only that "they are not prepared to move any further," said another European diplomatic source in Brussels ahead of the new talks which were to start at 1115 GMT.
"The phone talks today will be to decide on a common reponse. There is the possibility of trying to send the matter back to the Security Council but there is always the problem of persuading China and Russia," the source added.
Iran's latest letter said it was ready to give a "clear response" to the international offer but demanded a "'clear response' to our questions and ambiguities".
In seeking new UN sanctions, Washington is assured the support of Britain and France, both of whom have used stronger language in dealing with Iran. The position of the other three is unclear. Russia and China, two of Iran's biggest trading partners, are usually reticent in adopting sanctions.
Along with the threat of further sanctions, Washington has warned that the option of military action against Iran remains open if Tehran sticks to its defiant line.
Amid the continued tensions, Iran said on Monday it had successfully test-fired an anti-ship missile with a range of 300 kilometres (180 miles) that would allow it to close the Strait of Hormuz between Iran and Oman.
And adding to signs of new diplomatic pressure, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the main UN nuclear watchdog, said its deputy director general, Olli Heinonen, would visit Tehran on Thursday for talks on the nuclear dispute.
A diplomat close to the Vienna-based agency, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Heinonen's visit was not directly connected to the letter and was likely to concentrate on clarifying outstanding questions the IAEA has about Tehran's disputed nuclear drive.