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Page last updated at 12:14 GMT, Monday, 21 July 2008 13:14 UK

US warns Iran on nuclear deadline

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
Rice said Iran had to choose talks or "punitive measures"

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has warned that Iran may face further United Nations sanctions.

Iran has been set a two-week deadline to respond to an offer of incentives in return for halting its uranium enrichment programme.

Ms Rice said the US would consider asking the UN to take further measures against Iran, while the US would impose more of its own sanctions.

She said Iran could not stall on the deadline set at talks on Saturday.

On Sunday, the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, described the talks as a step forward.

[The meeting sent a] very strong message to the Iranians that they can't go and stall... and that they have to make a decision
Condoleezza Rice
US Secretary of State

Iran says its nuclear programme is for entirely peaceful purposes, while the US and its allies believe it could be used to develop a nuclear weapon.

At talks in Geneva on Saturday, envoys from the US, EU and UN asked Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment in return for a pledge not to introduce new sanctions.

Iran gave no guarantees it would halt its activities, so the diplomats gave Tehran two weeks to provide an answer.

The meeting was the first time US and Iranian officials have held face-to-face talks on the nuclear issue. Senior US official William Burns was present at the Geneva talks.

'Strong message'

"[The meeting sent a] very strong message to the Iranians that they can't go and stall... and that they have to make a decision," Ms Rice said.

"It clarifies Iran's choices and we will see what Iran does in two weeks. But I think the diplomatic process now has a kind of new energy in it."

Ms Rice said diplomacy offered the possibility of both negotiations and the "possibility of punitive measures".

Diplomats are hoping that Iran would respond to a so-called "freeze-for-freeze" offer, under which a freeze of Iran's uranium enrichment programme at its current levels would be matched by a Western pledge not to strengthen sanctions on Tehran.

The BBC's Jon Leyne, in Tehran, says Iran is interested in the offer but it is unclear whether there are divisions in the leadership or whether the Iranians are playing for time.

Tehran's continued nuclear activity is defying UN Security Council demands to halt enrichment.

The US and Iran have had no diplomatic relations since the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the taking of hostages at the US embassy in Tehran.

Formal contact between the two countries has been extremely limited, though last year they met at ambassadorial level to discuss security in Iraq.



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