Tehran denied on Saturday a US media report that it had offered a “ninestep plan” aimed at solving its stand-off with the West over its nuclear program.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that Iran had proposed a plan to European officials that required the West to lift harsh oil and economic sanctions in return for the eventual suspension of uranium enrichment by Tehran.

Israeli officials, however, warned that neither Iran’s economic woes nor the nascent demonstrations have forced the government to alter its nuclear policies.

“We should be careful not to count our chickens before they hatch,” one Israeli government official said, dismissing the notion that Iran was on the verge – because of the economic pressure – of a tipping point regarding its nuclear program. “From Israel’s point of view the sole criteria is whether they are continuing to enrich uranium.”

According to the official, the point of the sanctions is to stop the nuclear program, not to cause demonstrations.

“Until now the sanctions have not caused the Iranians to re-think the nuclear program,” he said. “All the evidence is that while incurring economic hardship, the Iranians have in parallel accelerated their nuclear program.”

The Times reported that the Iranian plan called for a step-by-step dismantling of sanctions while Iran ended work at one of two sites where it was enriching uranium to 20 percent. Tehran has refused to meet those demands unless economic sanctions choking its oil exports are lifted first, and denied on Saturday that it had made any new offers to the West to break an impasse that has lasted nearly a decade.

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“No new offer outside of the framework of the P5+1 negotiations during the last meeting of the United Nations has been made, and the claims of some American news organizations in this regard are baseless,” Mehr news agency on Saturday quoted Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, as saying.

The Iranian plan described by the Times would likely be a non-starter, as the six powers negotiating with Iran have demanded Tehran halt its 20 percent enrichment of uranium; ship any stockpile out of the country; close down an underground enrichment facility, Fordow; and permit more intrusive UN inspection of its work.

The United States Congress is considering expanding American economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic, and on October 15 the 27 EU foreign ministers will meet to consider ratcheting up the EU sanctions.

One Israeli official said that while stiffer sanctions were obviously welcome in Jerusalem, Israel wanted to see those steps accompanied by the public declaration of a red line beyond which Iran would not be able to cross, as well as a credible military threat. Paradoxically, the official said, “If Iran believes there is a credible military threat, that would decrease the chances of actually having to use it.”

Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, meanwhile, came out against the US publicly setting red lines on Iran, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been calling for.

“Should we make a public announcement that can be used by Israel or any country as a justification for its going to war? That we cannot do. We cannot subcontract the right to go to war, that is an American decision,” Kissinger said.

But, he added, the US did need to define for itself what it meant when it said that nuclear weapons capability for Iran was unacceptable. “We need to know for ourselves what we mean by that,” he said. “What is the definition?” Commenting on the upcoming US elections, Kissinger said: “I am endorsing Governor Romney... He would conduct a responsible foreign policy. I won’t go beyond that.”

Last July, during a keynote speech in Jerusalem at the opening of President Shimon Peres’s fourth annual Facing Tomorrow conference, Kissinger noted that the UN Security Council has stated for a decade that a military nuclear program in Iran was unacceptable.

Kissinger said that while the world powers were interested in diplomacy, “a point will be reached where they will have to define what they mean by unacceptable, and how that should be implemented.” That moment, Kissinger said at the conference, was approaching in the months ahead, “and it is something we should all do together.”

Another former high-ranking American official, former defense Secretary Robert Gates, stated on Thursday that Washington must make it clear to Israeli leaders that the US must not permit Israel to harm American interests.

Speaking at an event in Norfolk, Virginia, Gates commented that the Israeli leaders must be aware they “do not have a blank check to take action” that could harm American vital interests.

Instead, Gates called for heavier sanctions on Iran, saying the “results of an American or Israeli military strike on Iran could, in my view, prove catastrophic, haunting us for generations in that part of the world.”

He added sanctions are “our best chance going forward, to ratchet up the economic pressure and diplomatic isolation to the point where the Iranian leadership concludes that it actually hurts Iranian security and, above all, the security of the regime itself, to continue to pursue nuclear weapons.”

Gates also warned that neither Israel nor the US had the capabilities to obliterate Iran’s atom program, and that a military operation against the country’s nuclear facilities “would make a nuclear-armed Iran inevitable.”

Any attack would see Iran merely “bury the program deeper and make it more covert,” he said.

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