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Rice Warns Iran of Tougher UN Response if Nuclear Standoff Continues

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Canadian counterpart, Foreign Minister Peter MacKay, warned Iran Thursday it could face escalating international penalties if it ignores U.N. demands to halt uranium enrichment. Rice says there will have to be consequences for continued Iranian defiance.

In her most explicit comments on the subject thus far, Secretary Rice says Iran could face a binding resolution under Chapter Seven of the U.N. charter if it ignores the Security Council's current presidential statement calling on it to return to compliance with its international nuclear obligations.

Meeting reporters after talks on Iran and other issues with Canada's new Foreign Minister Peter MacKay, Rice expressed irritation over what she described as "salami tactics" by Iran, stepping up its nuclear activities bit-by-bit despite the Security Council's call on Tehran to desist.

She said if Iran has not backed down by the time the council reconvenes April 28, she is certain the U.N. will consider measures such as a Chapter Seven resolution to which she said Tehran would have really no choice but to comply. She made no specific forecast about what the council will do, other than to say it is clear there will be no second presidential statement.

"We have set the end of the month, essentially, for Iran to respond to a presidential statement," said Condoleezza Rice. "At that point the Security Council has got to take this back up. The Iranians have done nothing to demonstrate that they are going to adhere to the international guidelines that have been established for them, and therefore were going to have to have a response, and it can't be another presidential statement."

Other administration officials have spoken of a sequence under which the United States and allies would seek a nominally binding Chapter Seven resolution calling for Iranian cooperation, and if that was ignored, moving on to another resolution that would sanction the Tehran government.

Such action would require the support of permanent Security Council members Russia and China, who have said they oppose a sanction move. For his part, Canadian foreign minister Mackey, whose country is not a Security Council member, said sanctions would have to be part of a scenario of escalating penalties against Iran.

"If sanctions are necessary, we do believe, and I think the important message is that there will be progressive response and progressive consequences," he said. "I don't believe we want to take any drastic steps that would destabilize the very volatile situation right now. But I do believe it's necessary to start weighing all of these options. And if in fact there is not a response in very short order, I believe that through the Security Council, this will be the appropriate response."

The comments came as International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei began a mission to Iran aimed at gauging Iran's willingness to comply with IAEA demands, reiterated in the Security Council statement, that it halt uranium enrichment and reprocessing activity and return to negotiations.

Secretary Rice said the response of the Tehran government, which announced a purported breakthrough in enrichment Tuesday, has been a defiant one that further isolates the Iranian people from the world community.

Rice spoke to Director-General ElBaradei by telephone before he flew to Tehran and expects a briefing from him when he concludes his mission Friday.

Privately, U.S. officials say they are puzzled as to why Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced the uranium enrichment advance virtually on the eve of the ElBaradei visit. They suggest it may be tied to Iranian domestic politics.