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US threatens Iran with 'punitive' measures
WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States and its allies want "punitive" measures against Iran over its weak reponse to the international offer to persuade it to freeze its nuclear program, the White House said Wednesday.
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.
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.
The council has already ordered three rounds of sanctions against Iran.
"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.
Iran's latest letter to the international powers says nothing except "they are not prepared to move any further," said a 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.
The United States says that Iran is a weapons proliferation threat, while Iran insists that its nuclear research is for peaceful purposes.
Iran's latest letter, made available to AFP on Wednesday, said it was ready to give a "clear response" to the international offer but demanded a "'clear response' to our questions and ambiguities".
"If we are not going to receive a clear response, a clear message from them, we are going to have no choice but to pursue additional measures," said a State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos as he announced the new talks.
The New York Times, quoting unnamed US and European diplomats, said the US administration would go back to the UN Security Council.
The Iranian letter was sent to EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana three days after a deadline for a response to the international offer he made two weeks earlier.
It was circulated to the six world powers late Tuesday.
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.