US continues to press for sanctions over Iran nuclear program

Date: 05-16-07

by Sylvie Lanteaume

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Washington will continue to press for sanctions against Iran, despite the failure of existing measures to deter Tehran's controversial nuclear program, US officials said Wednesday, as cracks began to show in international unity on the sanctions question.

International weapons inspectors on Tuesday confirmed that Tehran appears to be making steady progress toward its goal of building 3,000 centrifuges, which could allow it to process enough nuclear material to build one atomic bomb per year.

The Islamic republic is defying demands and sanctions from the UN Security Council that it suspend enrichment, and insists that it only wants to enrich uranium to make nuclear fuel.

The UN Security Council adopted a resolution in March imposing sanctions against Iran's missile and nuclear programs after it repeatedly ignored ultimatums to suspend uranium enrichment.

The world body gave Iran 60 days to suspend enrichment or face further punitive measures, meaning that the latest deadline will expire next week.

The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is to issue a May 23 report on Tehran's nuclear work which could lead to further sanctions.

Although last year Washington brandished the 3,000 centrifuge-threshold as a crisis when it garnered support from Beijing and Moscow to back UN sanctions against Iran, officials now insist that there is still time for diplomatic efforts to succeed.

"The important thing here is that we have continued to have sustained pressure on the Iranians," White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

State Department spokesman Tom Casey echoed that view.

"The fact that Iran continues to move forward in defiance of the international community's wishes and in defiance of these efforts is only proof to us that we need to continue to move forward with our policy," Casey said.

"We need to continue to apply pressure, and in fact increase pressure with an additional Security Council resolution, if in fact they don't comply and don't change their minds," he said.

The State Department spokesman added: "We do believe that we are on the right course, that there is time to resolve this diplomatically, and that we will, through this combination of pressure and sanctions ... be able ultimately to change their behavior and be able to reverse this program," said Casey.

European allies, meanwhile, are beginning to question the usefulness of pursuing sanctions.

If the strategy fails to produce clear-cut results within the next few months "it will be necessary to ask how we go forward," one diplomatic source, who did not rule out military action.

The source said it was unlikely that a change of strategy would occur before in the next several weeks.

Officially, France, Great Britain and Germany are on record as rejecting military action against Tehran, and Russia and China are even more emphatic in opposing force -- an option which Washington does not rule out.

The issue was likely to come up at a meeting in Germany at the end of month of global finance chiefs.


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