U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says if Iran is serious about accepting the international offer that could end the dispute over its nuclear program, it should do so soon, and through official channels. Gates was speaking to reporters in Ankara, in response to a statement by Iran's foreign minister at a conference in Germany.
The Iranian foreign minister was quoted in Munich as saying an agreement might be close. But Secretary Gates, who has been traveling, says he has not heard anything about that.
"Based on the information I have, I don't have the sense we're close to an agreement," he said.
Gates said if Iran is ready to change its position and accept the offer made last year by the permanent Security Council members and Germany, it should do so soon, or the value of the plan for Iran to hand over all its low-enriched uranium will be diminished. But he has seen no indication Iran is ready to do that.
"They have done nothing to reassure the international community that they are prepared to comply with the NPT or stop their progress toward a nuclear weapon. And therefore I think that various nations need to think about whether the time has come for a different tack," he said.
Secretary Gates said the Obama administration has made an unprecedented effort to engage Iran in talks about its nuclear program, with what he called a disappointing response from Tehran. Now, he says, if Iran wants to get serious about talks it should do so through official channels, not through public statements.
"My view is that's a discussion that the Iranians would better hold at the IAEA than at the Munich conference, or in news conferences by President Achmedinijad," he said.
In spite of the disappointment about Iran's response to Western proposals so far, Gates said he believes the countries involved would respond positively, if Iran is ready to accept the current plan. But he said the more time that goes by, the less value there will be to the plan for Iran to send all its low-enriched uranium abroad for enrichment for peaceful purposes.
Experts are concerned Iran could have produced more of the material in the meantime and diverted it to a nuclear weapons program.