U.S. stays firm on sanctions against Iran

Posted in Iran | 21-Aug-07 | Author: Brian Knowlton| Source: International Herald Tribune

WASHINGTON: A top State Department official said Monday that it was "absolutely unacceptable logic" to suggest that a renewed Iranian willingness to work with United Nations atomic energy officials was grounds to delay a new push for sanctions against Tehran. He urged U.S. allies to crack down severely on trade with that country.

The comments, from Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, came as the United States and some of its allies are preparing for a major effort next month at the UN to secure tougher sanctions to punish Iran for continuing work that much of the world believes could lead to a nuclear weapon.

"We intend to push it very, very hard," Burns said. He predicted a "harder-edged, tougher diplomacy" in dealing with what he called "the most radical and dangerous government in the Middle East."

The Iranians, after years of failing to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency to its satisfaction, said last month that they were ready to answer questions on past nuclear experiments, and to open a heavy-water reactor to inspection.

But the United States, as Burns made clear, sees this as yet another delaying tactic by a government considered to have mastered the technique.

"It's obvious what the Iranians are up to," Burns said in a small meeting with journalists at the offices of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Washington. "It's totally transparent."

"They have this dalliance with the IAEA right now," he said, that was clearly meant to buy time and undercut the U.S.-led sanctions effort. "Iran should have answered these questions years ago."

Burns urged other countries to stop their dealings with Iran. Although he said Russia had mostly been helpful - he called Moscow's repeated delays in moving forward with a nuclear project with Iran "interesting" - he then said that it was "inconsistent for Russia to sell arms to Iran."

He was even more blunt in denouncing the government of Austria, which, he said, had "blithely supported a major energy deal with the Iranians."

"That was wrong," Burns said.

Despite his exasperation with Iran, Burns made it clear that the United States remained determined to find a diplomatic solution to the nuclear tensions, not to follow the military route feared by some. "Our strategy is a diplomatic one," he said. "We should exhaust diplomacy. Nobody should doubt that we're focused on diplomacy." Still, as the administration has consistently done, he said that even military options would remain on the table.

He underscored that the United States had nothing against a civilian nuclear energy program in Iran - which is what Tehran says it is building.

Burns said that talks with Iran aimed at improving security in Iraq would continue "as long as they're useful," but that the United States was frustrated that Tehran had not been more forthcoming, or more cooperative about blocking what the Pentagon says has been particularly lethal cross-border aid to extremists and insurgents in Iran.

"Frankly, I don't think we've seen the type of response from the Iranian government we would've wanted," he said.

Burns was asked as part of a multi-part question whether the United States planned, as reported last week, to declare Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group. He did not reply.