US talks tough on Iran, warns China

9 hours ago

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States accused Iran Thursday of "stringing along" UN watchdogs investigating its nuclear ambitions and bluntly warned China not to block new sanctions against the Islamic republic.

US officials talked tough after the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran had made "substantial progress" but still needed to be more pro-active in shedding light on its atomic program.

One official close to the IAEA said the assessment showed that "the glass is half full" with regard to the Iranian case. But White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Tehran was guilty of "selective cooperation."

"This report sadly makes clear that Iran seems uninterested in working with the rest of the world," she said.

"The United States will work with our partners on the UN Security Council and Germany as we move towards a third set of Security Council sanctions," Perino said.

At the United Nations, US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad accused China of stalling on sanctions designed to punish Iran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment.

Enriched uranium can be used to generate nuclear power, but also in a highly refined form, to make nuclear weapons.

"I don't think China would want to be in a position to cause a failure of diplomacy to deal with this issue," Khalilzad told reporters.

"For diplomacy to succeed it needs widely supported, broad and biting sanctions to affect the calculations of the regime in Iran," he said.

The United States has never ruled out military action if Iran persists with its atomic drive, and has stepped up its rhetoric of late to warn of "World War III" if Tehran gains the know-how to make nuclear weapons.

A senior UN official confirmed a claim by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Iran had reached a key target of 3,000 centrifuges enriching uranium.

Scientists say that number could be sufficient to produce enough enriched uranium in one year to make a single nuclear bomb.

But Washington has been frustrated at the UN Security Council by the reluctance of China in particular to intensify two earlier rounds of global sanctions against the Iranian regime.

"It's in everyone's interest for this world-defining issue to be resolved diplomatically," Khalilzad said.

The IAEA, whose chief Mohamed ElBaradei has strongly criticized the US approach to Iran, said the country had given "sufficient access" to its inspectors and had responded "in a timely manner" to questions.

"However, its cooperation has been reactive rather than pro-active," the report added, stressing that Iran's "active cooperation and full transparency" were needed to assuage international concerns.

At the White House, Perino zeroed in on what she described as the report's finding that "contrary to the decisions of the Security Council, Iran has not suspended its enrichment-related activities."

"We believe that Iran should be fully cooperating, and not stringing along the IAEA during this process," she said.

"It just pushes Iran further into isolation and we believe that what they should do is take us up on our offer."

The United States, Britain, France, and Germany have offered a package of political and economic incentives, including cooperation on civil nuclear energy, if Iran freezes enrichment.

Washington and its allies are also awaiting a report from European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana on his own contacts with Iran.

A release date for Solana's report is expected in "a matter of days," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, who called the IAEA evaluation "troubling."

But new Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili said the report by the UN agency showed that Western claims that the atomic program has military aims "are not true."

Jalili added: "Whether the report is negative or positive, the Americans always say the same thing."