WASHINGTON – A day after the publication of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) report saying Iran appears to have worked on designing an atom bomb, the US is working to impose harsher sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said Wednesday that Washington was in consultations with Russia and three other permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, UK and France – as well as Germany, regarding the possibility of taking additional measures aimed at pressuring Iran.
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The United States, he said, is looking at ways to put "additional pressure" on Tehran. "These are very serious allegations, serious charges, and it's incumbent on Iran to at last engage with the IAEA in a credible and transparent manner to address these concerns," Toner said.
President Barack Obama's administration is "going to consult (with allies and partners) and look at ways to impose additional pressure on Iran," Toner told reporters, adding Washington was considering "a range of options" against the Islamic republic.
To consult allies. Obama (Photo: Reuters)
"I don't want to rule anything out or anything in," he said, adding that unilateral sanctions were a possibility.
The IAEA, the UN nuclear watchdog, disclosed on Tuesday that it has found "credible" intelligence showing Iran's interest in nuclear weapons – the first time it has so openly supported claims initially raised by Israel and the United States.
Since 2006, four UN Security Council resolutions on the Iranian nuclear program have involved sanctions, the latest coming in June 2010 in a resolution expanding the arms embargo and barring the country from sensitive activities like uranium mining.
The following month, Obama signed into law the toughest ever US sanctions on Iran, which were aimed at choking off Iran's access to imports of refined petroleum products like gasoline and jet fuel and curbing its access to the international banking system.
But the release of the damning UN report saw France and Britain join a US call for even stronger punishments, while Russia ruled out backing new sanctions against Iran.
A US State Department official reacted to the report by saying, "The IAEA Director General’s report...is the most comprehensive and detailed public assessment of Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons, and it raises further questions about the nature of Iran’s nuclear program and of the Iranian government’s willingness ever to discuss its nuclear activities forthrightly.
"It also demonstrates what the US has known and made clear for years: that Iran had a nuclear weapons program and has provided no assurance that it has abandoned a nuclear weapons intent," the official said. "Our policy has been predicated on this view. Accordingly, we will proceed with our dual track policy."
The State Department official went on to say that "in the absence of transparency and compliance with Iran’s international obligations, we will continue to consult and work with our partners, with whom we have already engineered the adoption of UNSCR 1929 and other multilateral and national measures that have created the most aggressive, isolating, and debilitating sanctions regime imposed on Iran to date, to isolate Iran. It is Iran's responsibility to build confidence in its peaceful intent and to reduce those tensions through transparency and compliance with relevant UN Security Council resolutions and its IAEA obligations.
"We will continue both to put pressure on Iran and to offer opportunities for engagement so as to compel Iran to make the changes we seek in Iran’s decision-making," the official said.
Russia on Wednesday vehemently criticized the IAEA report, saying it contained no new evidence and was being used to undercut efforts to reach a diplomatic solution.
'No new info in report'
Sharpening opposition to any new sanctions against Iran in the UN Security Council, where Russia has veto power, senior diplomats said further punitive measures would be "destructive" and urged a revival of talks between Tehran and global powers.
"According to our initial evaluations, there is no fundamentally new information in the report," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
"We are talking about a compilation of known facts, given a politicized tone," it said, adding that interpretations of the report brought to mind the use of faulty intelligence to seek support for the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the Security Council should be convened and that Paris was ready to adopt "unprecedented" sanctions if Tehran refused to cooperate with efforts to ensure it is not pursuing nuclear weapons.
Russia has grudgingly approved four rounds of UN sanctions on Iran after watering them down, with China. But it has criticized Western states for imposing additional punitive measures and signaled in recent months that it would oppose a new push for sanctions in the Security Council.
Russia has close commercial ties with Iran and built a nuclear power plant that was switched on in the Islamic Republic this year. It has repeatedly said too much pressure on Tehran is counterproductive.
Russia is instead calling for a step-by-step process under which existing sanctions would be eased in return for actions by Tehran to dispel international concerns.
'Iran won't budge an iota'
Analysts say Moscow may have calculated that it has little to gain from supporting new sanctions against Iran. This would further hurt ties already damaged by Russia's backing of the most recent measures in June 2010, when President Dmitry Medvedev also scrapped a deal to deliver air-defense missiles to Tehran.
Those sanctions were adopted at a time of improving relations between Russia and the US, after Obama downsized a European missile defense plan that Russia opposed and signed a nuclear arms limitation treaty with Medvedev.
Tehran meanwhile said Wednesday the country stands "ready for useful and positive talks" on its nuclear program as long as they are held on the basis of equality and respect.
Earlier Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had reacted with a more defiant tone, saying Iran "will not budge an iota" on its nuclear program, which he insists is for peaceful ends.
AFP, Reuters contributed to the report