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US envoy says sanctions debated against Iran

Diplomats fail to agree on course

MOSCOW -- A US diplomat said yesterday that envoys from the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany discussed sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, but failed to reach agreement on how to proceed further.

US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said in an interview following nearly three hours of talks that diplomats recognized the ''need for a stiff response to Iran's flagrant violations of its international responsibilities."

President Bush said ''all options are on the table" to prevent Iran from developing atomic weapons but that he will continue to focus on diplomacy.

Burns, speaking in Moscow, said sanctions had been discussed during the meeting hosted by Russia but indicated that further talks would be needed.

''Iran's actions last week have deepened concern in the international community and all of us agreed that the actions last week were fundamentally negative and a step backward," he said. ''So now the task for us is to agree on a way forward."

He was referring to the announcement last week by Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that the country had successfully enriched uranium for the first time.

Burns gave no specifics as to the type or timing of sanctions, and he refused to say whether Russia had softened its opposition to sanctions against Iran. But he reiterated that the United States expected action in the Security Council after an April 28 deadline for Iran to stop uranium enrichment.

Ahmadinejad remained defiant, warning yesterday that Iran will ''cut off the hand of any aggressor" that threatens it and insisting that its military has to be equipped with the most modern technology.

''The land of Iran has created a powerful army that can powerfully defend the political borders," he told a parade commemorating Iran's Army Day.

The United States and some of its allies suspect Iran's nuclear program is meant to produce weapons, but Tehran insists the program is for peaceful purposes.

Ahmadinejad further complicated the debate last week by asserting his country is testing an advanced P-2 centrifuge, which could be used to more speedily create fuel for power plants or atomic weapons.

Some analysts familiar with the country's technology said he could be exaggerating Iran's capabilities, either to boost his own political support or to persuade the International Atomic Energy Agency to back off.

In Vienna, diplomats accredited to or associated with the UN nuclear watchdog said the assertion about the centrifuges was not a surprise.

The diplomats, who demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the confidential Iran file, said past IAEA reports on Iran documented evidence of purchases of components for the centrifuges. But the diplomats noted that Ahmadinejad's comments appeared at odds with Tehran's assertions that no such work had been conducted for years.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of Russia called his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, on Monday to urge Tehran to quickly answer questions related to its nuclear bid and halt uranium enrichment, the ministry said yesterday.

Earlier yesterday in Washington, Bush also said there should be a unified effort involving countries ''who recognize the danger of Iran having a nuclear weapon."

Asked if his administration was planning for the possibility of a nuclear strike against Iran, he responded, ''All options are on the table."

Russia and China, which have strong economic ties to Iran, have opposed punitive measures. Bush said he intends to ask President Hu Jintao of China to pressure Iran when the two leaders meet tomorrow at the White House.

Britain also urged a peaceful solution to the crisis.

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