Page last updated at 21:08 GMT, Wednesday, 6 August 2008 22:08 UK

World powers mull Iran sanctions

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili
Iran said it would give a "clear response" if it got the same in return

The major world powers have agreed to consider further sanctions against Iran because of its refusal to halt its nuclear programme, the US says.

The decision came during talks between the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany.

The six nations had wanted a clear answer from Iran to an offer of incentives, but only received a non-committal letter.

But Russia's UN ambassador said there was no agreement on further sanctions.

"We are beginning to consider the possible outline for another sanction resolution," said US State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos

'Stalling tactic'

The decision came after a telephone conference between the six nations - China, France, Russia, the UK and US, along with Germany - which followed "inconclusive" talks over Iran's nuclear enrichment programme.

Iran suspends its nuclear activities including the installation of any new centrifuges
At same time the six world powers refrain from any new Security Council resolution on sanctions
Talks can then start on long-term deal on recognising Iran's right to develop nuclear energy for civilian purposes, and lifting of sanctions

The six nations had told Iran in June there would be no further economic sanctions if it suspended uranium enrichment as an initial step in starting talks on a longer-term deal.

But the US state department said a letter earlier this week in which Iran called for "mutual clarification" failed to give a response.

The White House described the letter as a "stalling tactic", while France said it regretted that Iran had "once again chosen not to answer clearly".

The UK also expressed disappointment at Iran's response.

"Iran has a clear choice: engagement or isolation. We regret that Iran's leaders appear to have chosen isolation," said British Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells.

Freeze demanded

But Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that despite the ambiguous response, there was still hope for ongoing dialogue.

We think that the allies will have no choice but to take further measures that would be punitive
Dana Perino
White House spokeswoman

"We certainly do not believe that it is a foregone conclusion that the dialogue is not going to be successful," he said.

He said that although a fourth round of sanctions had been raised in the discussion, "there have been no firm agreements or understandings or any kind of concerted work in this regard".

Tehran insists its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful, while the US and its allies believe it could be used to develop nuclear weapons.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana had given Iran's chief nuclear negotiator until last Saturday to respond to an offer of no further economic sanctions in return for an Iranian freeze on uranium enrichment.

Speaking to reporters from a plane carrying US President George W Bush on an Asian tour, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said: "In the absence of a positive response... we think that the allies will have no choice but to take further measures that would be punitive."

There is a terrible sense of deja vu about the Iranian nuclear story, says the BBC's diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus.

This follows a familiar pattern - a proposal is made to the Iranians; their answer is deemed as insufficient; China and Russia drag their feet as the Security Council considers a further round of sanctions; new sanctions are eventually agreed, accompanied by dire warnings of future measures if Iran does not acquiesce.

Tehran has clearly made a judgement that despite all the talk of potential air strikes against its nuclear facilities, the US presidential campaign, Israel's political uncertainty and high oil prices mean that a crisis is not imminent, our correspondent adds.

Olli Heinonen, the deputy director of the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is due to visit Tehran for talks on Thursday.

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