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Nuclear Issue Prompts Debate on US Iranian Policy

In December, the U.N. Security Council unanimously voted to impose sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program, and gave that nation until next week to halt uranium enrichment or face the possibility of additional penalties. In the United States, there is a debate about how the Iranian nuclear issue should be handled and what should come next: talks, more sanctions or military action. From Washington, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

Next Wednesday, the U.N. nuclear watchdog chief, Mohamed ElBaradei will report to the U.N. Security Council on whether Iran has complied with international demands to stop enriching uranium, a possible step toward making nuclear weapons.

U.S. Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns said in Washington Wednesday he does not expect ElBaradei's report to find Tehran in compliance, and says the United States and other Security Council members may have to consider further penalties against the Islamic Republic. "Those of us in the Security Council will have to entertain the possibility of a second Security Council resolution that will gradually increase the pressure on Iran, but always leaving this exit door for the Iranians, that the offer remains on the table that we do want to negotiate with you. And all of us believe, including the United States, that a negotiated solution is possible," he said.

Former Bush administration official Larry Wilkerson, says the time is right to push forward with diplomatic talks but he worries that the administration does not have the political will to pursue them. "But it looks as if today, we are approaching, if we are not already at, a moment we should capitalize on once again - that is to say, we could probably move to meaningful diplomatic talks with the Iranians. And that is what I'm really concerned with, because I do not see the political will in this administration, still, to do that," he said.

President Bush has said in the past that all options, including a military one, remain on the table for dealing with what the United States and several other Western nations believe is Iran's secret pursuit of nuclear weapons, an allegation Iran denies. Democratic Party congresswoman, Jane Harmon, worries that the military option could undermine diplomatic efforts. "We have evidence that our economic and diplomatic strategies are working. And we should expand them and reject needless saber-rattling that will undercut them," she said.

Undersecretary Burns says the administration is not looking for a conflict with Iran. "Our view is that we should try to avoid a conflict with Iran. We should use other methods: diplomacy, economic coercion, sanctions at the Security Council, financial measures, to try to convince the Iranians that there is another way forward and to raise the cost to the Iranians of their present behavior," he said.

Burns says a proposal made to Iran last June that offers a package of incentives and multilateral talks if it agrees to suspend uranium enrichment and cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency also remains on the table.