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US Calls Iranian Nuclear Defiance Disappointing

The United States said Monday Iran's apparent intention to defy the U.N. Security Council on its nuclear program is disappointing, and that it expects the world community to follow through with sanctions against Tehran. The Security Council's deadline for Iran to stop reprocessing uranium and return to negotiations over its nuclear program is Thursday.

Officials here appear to be holding out no hope that Iran will reconsider its defiance of the Security Council before the deadline, and they say consultations on how the international community will respond are already under way.

Major world powers offered Iran a package of economic and political incentives in June for it to end uranium enrichment and other sensitive activities and return to negotiations about its nuclear intentions.

That offer was backed up by a Security Council resolution last month giving it until August 31 to respond positively or face sanctions.

Iran said last week it was prepared to have serious talks on the issue but would not suspend enrichment which it contends is a sovereign right.

In talk with reporters here, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said it is disappointing that Iran has chosen the path of defiance not only of the Security Council but also the five permanent council member countries and Germany who presented the so-called carrots and sticks offer to Tehran nearly three months ago.

McCormack said that Iran is being asked for nothing more than the good-faith gesture of suspending enrichment as the price of admission to further negotiations:

"Let's be clear what is being asked of them by the international community," said Sean McCormack. "It is only to suspend their enrichment and reprocessing related activities in exchange for the beginning of negotiations and the suspension of activity and action in the Security Council. So that's what's being asked of them. Not to provide a final answer to the package that has been laid before them, which is a very attractive proposal. But only to begin negotiations."

McCormack said the demand that Iran stop enrichment is only reasonable, and that without such a commitment it could indefinitely drag out negotiations while continuing what U.S. officials believe is a covert nuclear weapons program.

The spokesman said U.S. concerns about Iran's intentions were only increased by its announcement Saturday it is opening a heavy-water reactor, which he said could be used to develop a plutonium-based nuclear weapon in addition to the uranium weapons project it is suspected of having.

Under questioning, the spokesman downplayed reported Russian reluctance to support U.N. sanctions against Iran, saying the United States expects all Security Council members to live up to what they agreed to in last month's resolution.

But he also said the United States and like-minded countries will be free to impose financial sanctions against Iran outside the U.N. framework and that active conversations on that track have been under way for some time.

He provided no specifics but suggested that Iran's economy - almost entirely based on oil exports - might be especially vulnerable to trade curbs imposed by multi-lateral and private financial institutions.

On another matter, McCormack confirmed that the Bush administration has decided to grant a U.S. visa to former Iranian President Mohamad Khatami, who has been invited to speak next month at a multi-faith seminar at Washington's National Cathedral.

Khatami, considered a moderate among Iranian religious leaders, had been an advocate of dialogue with the United States during his term in office which ended last year.

He would be the most senior Iranian figure to visit Washington since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution and the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran that led to the break in bilateral ties that continues today.