The United States Wednesday brushed aside a comment by Iran's foreign minister that Tehran may be willing to discuss a halt to uranium enrichment. The State Department says what is required is a formal Iranian reply to the U.N. Security Council resolution giving Iran until the end of the month to suspend enrichment or face sanctions.
Officials here are dismissing the comments of Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki as just another in a series of conflicting remarks from Tehran on the nuclear issue, and they say what is needed is clear-cut Iranian response to the U.N. resolution.
The Security Council late last month gave Iran until August 31 to suspend uranium enrichment and renew negotiations over its nuclear program, or face international sanctions.
The Iranian foreign minister told reporters in Tehran Wednesday that while the call for an end to enrichment is, as he put it, illogical, the matter could be discussed in negotiations.
Those comments, which came only a day after what seemed to be a flat rejection of the U.N. resolution by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, drew a cool response from State Department Acting Spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos. He told reporters the United States and the rest of the international community want a definitive Iranian reply.
"We're really not interested in, kind of, off-the-cuff comment on the periphery," said Gallegos. "There's been a lot of commentary coming from Iran. There's a resolution in place. We're looking for an official response from the Iranian government on this resolution. And that's what we're waiting to hear before the deadline."
The U.N. Security Council imposed the August 31 deadline in the absence of an Iranian reply to an offer by the five permanent U.N. Security Council member countries and Germany that it end sensitive nuclear activities in exchange for economic and political incentives.
The so-called carrots and sticks offer delivered to Tehran by European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana in June included an implied threat of sanctions if the plan was rejected.
Bush administration officials say they are confident the Security Council will move to impose at least limited sanctions, such as travel restrictions and asset freezes aimed at top Iranian officials, if Iran refuses to halt enrichment.
U.S. analysts believe Iran may have encouraged the Shi'ite Hezbollah militia in Lebanon to provoke its conflict with Israel last month in order to shift world attention away from the nuclear issue and the looming U.N. deadline.
Lebanon ceasefire debate in the U.N. Security Council was contentious. But Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicolas Burns said this week there is no indication that the war has weakened the will of U.S. allies to isolate Iran.
To the contrary, Burns said the conflict has only heightened concerns over Iran and, in his words, strengthened our hand.
Despite Iranian denials, the Bush administration believes Iran's nominally peaceful nuclear program has a covert weapons component.