U.S. officials say time is running out for Iran to accept a deal designed to ease concern about its nuclear ambitions, and there are strong signs Tehran may let the end-of-year deadline slip by. The White House is warning of real consequences if Iran refuses to comply.
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has, in effect, dismissed the year-end deadline. He says the United States is in no position to set deadlines. In remarks Tuesday in the southern city of Shiraz, he said American officials must "change their attitude."
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2009.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs flatly rejected his comments. Gibbs told reporters that time is running out.
"Mr. Ahmadinejad may not recognize, for whatever reason, the deadline that looms, but that is a very real deadline to the international community," he said.
Gibbs said the world is waiting to see if Tehran lives up to its responsibilities. He said the United States and its negotiating partners - Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany - take their offer seriously, and Iran must do so as well.
The deal, backed by the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, calls for Iran to send much of its low-enriched uranium out of the country in exchange for nuclear fuel.
Gibbs said the offer is on the table, and its fate rests with the Iranian president.
"Now they have to live up to those responsibilities and if they fail to do so, the international community will act accordingly," he said.
The White House spokesman stressed talks are already under way on possible action if Iran walks away from the deal.
"Those preparations have begun. Discussions have been had with leaders about those next steps at the U.N. as you know in September, in meeting with the Chinese on the recent trip," said Gibbs.
In an interview aired Monday in the United States with the ABC television network, President Ahmadinejad was defiant. He was asked about a document that surfaced in England that purports to show Iran has been testing a trigger for a nuclear weapon.
The Iranian leader said the document was a fraud. He spoke through an interpreter:
"No, I do not want to see them at all," said Ahmadinejad. "I do not. There are all fabricated bunch of papers continuously forged and disseminated by the American government."
Iran's president said once again his country is pursuing a peaceful nuclear program. But the United States and its allies have asserted that Iran's real intent is to develop nuclear weapons.