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US to Reconsider Iran Sanctions Bid in September - 2004-06-21

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says the Bush administration will reconsider in September the question of whether to pursue U.N. sanctions against Iran because of its nuclear program. Mr. Powell discussed the issue Monday with the International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohamed el-Baradei.

The Bush administration is hoping that Iran will comply with IAEA resolutions for disclosing its nuclear activities.

But it is signaling that its patience with the IAEA process is limited, and that it will reconsider its position on possible sanctions after the U.N. agency's next meeting in September.

In a resolution Friday, the 35-nation IAEA board, which includes the United States, declared that Iran had broken promises of complete disclosure, and called on Tehran to answer outstanding questions about its nuclear ambitions on an urgent basis.

The issue dominated a meeting Monday between Secretary Powell and Mr. el-Baradei. In a talk with reporters afterward, the Secretary expressed satisfaction with the new resolution. But he also suggested the Bush administration will review its approach to the process if Iran is found, at the next IAEA meeting, to still be less than fully cooperative:

"They have been put on notice, once again rather firmly and strongly, in this new resolution that the international community is expecting them to answer its questions and to respond fully. And in due course, we will have a chance to examine their response in September and at that time judgments can be made as to what action might be appropriate."

U.S. officials have maintained that Iran's nominally-peaceful nuclear program conceals an ambitious effort to develop nuclear weapons.

But the administration has not pressed for an IAEA referral of the matter to the U.N. Security Council for sanctions, partly in deference to efforts by European allies to persuade Tehran to end uranium enrichment activities.

In his remarks here, Mr. el-Baradei said the IAEA shares the United States' interest in seeing full cooperation from Tehran and an early conclusion to its long-running probe of the Iranian nuclear program:

"I repeated to Secretary Powell the commitment of the Agency that we need to bring this issue to a close as soon as we can; that I have been asking, as the Board also have been asking Iran to become proactive, to become transparent and to be fully cooperative. And I hope I see that mode of cooperation in the next few months. I think the international community is urgently seeking assurance from the Agency that Iran program is exclusively for peaceful purpose."

The IAEA board used strong language in Friday's resolution, saying it "deplores" the limits on Iranian cooperation with the agency.

Iranian officials have responded angrily to the criticism, saying concerns about the country's nuclear program are baseless and that the IAEA acted under U.S. pressure.

A top Iranian nuclear official also said Tehran's pledge to European envoys last year to stop enriching uranium would be reviewed, though the Foreign Ministry in Tehran said Sunday no decision to resume enrichment activity had been made.