Time running out for Tehran, warns Rice

08 Aug 2008

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WASHINGTON, Aug 7: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice threatened Iran with more sanctions on Thursday after it failed to give an adequate response to the latest bid by Western powers to induce it to freeze uranium enrichment.

“Iran has a way out if they ever wish, but we will seriously pursue sanctions if they don’t,” Rice told Yahoo! News and the magazine Politico.

“You have to hope that there are reasonable people in Iran who see this as not the way to run a country.” Tehran’s latest response to a demand for the enrichment freeze in exchange for trade and technology incentives “is not a really serious answer,” she said in her first comments since six world powers discussed the matter in a Wednesday conference call.

In the interviews, Rice said that the United States does not view Iran as “a permanent enemy,” and has “been pretty tough with them already” by backing three sets of United Nations sanctions.

“They should have felt like time is running out quite a long time ago,” Rice said.

“When you are having trouble getting banks to come in, getting investment, when export credits are going down from around the world, when you have inflation roaring, time is running out,” she said.

On Wednesday, Britain and the United States said the six powers now had “no choice” but to seek new UN sanctions after Iran failed to give a “clear positive response.” The two governments said there was now agreement among the six powers, which also include China, France, Germany and Russia, that a new sanctions resolution should be discussed at the Security Council.

Washington and its allies say Iran’s nuclear programme could be a cover to develop atomic weapons.Iran insists it has the right to develop nuclear technology, which it says is aimed at generating electricity for its growing population.

Meanwhile, A top UN nuclear watchdog official began talks in Iran on Thursday aimed at improving cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency over Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Diplomats in Vienna, where the IAEA is based, said the visit was a fresh effort to extract Iranian clarifications about intelligence reports suggesting it illicitly tried to design atomic bombs. Iran insists its nuclear work is peaceful.

“The two parties will assess the trend of cooperation between Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation and the IAEA,” the official Iranian news agency IRNA said.

It said Olli Heinonen, the IAEA’s deputy director in charge of inspections, would hold talks in Tehran on Thursday and Friday. An IAEA official said Heinonen was expected back in Vienna early on Saturday.

Western capitals have said Iran now faces a new round of UN sanctions after it failed to respond positively by an informal deadline last weekend to an enhanced offer of incentives from six world powers aimed at ending the dispute.

They proposed that Iran freeze any expansion of its nuclear work in return for a halt to further UN sanctions. Three other rounds of penalties have been imposed since 2006.

The freeze idea was aimed at getting preliminary talks going as a stepping stone towards formal negotiations on a package of nuclear, trade and other incentives. However, Iran would have to suspend uranium enrichment entirely for negotiations to start.Iran has refused to halt enrichment, which it says is aimed only at generating electricity. It has also given no indication that it is ready for a freeze. It has promised to give a “clear response” to the sextet’s offer at an unspecified date.Diplomats in Vienna played down speculation that Heinonen was on a special mission to verify the current level of Iranian enrichment activity, noting Iran had given no apparent sign of openness to the “freeze for freeze” idea.

Enrichment is the part of Iran’s work that most worries the West because it can be used to yield fuel for power plants or, if the process is adjusted, material for nuclear warheads.

In its most recent quarterly report on Iran, the IAEA said in May that alleged Iranian research into nuclear warheads was a “serious concern” and Tehran should provide more explanation of questionable missile-related activities.

Two weeks ago, Irans’ atomic energy director said after talks with IAEA officials in Vienna he believed it was not the agency’s business to delve into those allegations. He said Iran would deal with them in other ways, without elaborating.—Reuters