Reporting from Washington —
Obama administration officials reacted coolly Monday to an Iranian offer aimed at ending the standoff over that country's nuclear program, saying they intend to press ahead with a proposal for United Nations Security Council sanctions.
U.S. officials said they intend to study the proposal, brokered by Brazil and Turkey, that would temporarily remove much of Tehran's low-enriched uranium from the country.
But a White House official said the proposal appeared to leave unresolved the larger issues connected with the country's uranium enrichment program.
"Given Iran's repeated failure to live up to its own commitments, and the need to address fundamental issues related to Iran's nuclear program, the United States and international community continue to have serious concerns," said Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary.
Although it would be a "positive step" for Iran to transfer low-enriched uranium out of the country, as it first agreed to do last October, Gibbs said, the plan outlined Monday would not resolve long-standing problems.
"Iran said today that it would continue its 20% enrichment, which is a direct violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions," Gibbs said.
The declaration in Tehran is also vague about Iran's willingness to address international concerns about its nuclear program, Gibbs said in a written statement.
U.S. and Western officials believe Iran's program is aimed at developing a nuclear weapon. Iran insists it is pursuing nuclear research for peaceful, civilian purposes.
After winning passage of new sanctions backed by the Security Council, U.S. officials have been planning additional steps by individual countries to step up pressure on Iran.
"We're not stopping our talks at the U.N.," said one U.S. official who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Under the latest proposal, Iran would ship approximately 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium to Turkey. Within a year, it would receive an equal amount of uranium enriched to a higher 20% concentration, suitable for powering a research reactor in Tehran that produces medical isotopes for use in Iranian hospitals.
The uranium swap was designed last October by the West, which hoped that removing the material would further retard Iran's nuclear-development program. That offer was first accepted, then rebuffed by Iran.
But as Brazil and Turkey pursued this latest iteration of that deal, Western powers have said they suspected the diplomatic effort was aimed mostly at dividing Security Council members and undermining discussions of tougher U.N. economic sanctions.
European diplomats, reached in Washington, said they too intended to study the proposal but did not intend to halt the discussions at the United Nations.
Gibbs acknowledged the diplomatic efforts by Turkey and Brazil, but said the international community can't consider the proposal announced in Tehran until a clear version of the plan has been sent to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog.
"The United States will continue to work with our international partners, and through the United Nations Security Council, to make it clear to the Iranian government that it must demonstrate through deeds – and not simply words – its willingness to live up to international obligations or face consequences, including sanctions," Gibbs said.