obama pointing 311.
(photo credit: AP)
The United States is developing a "significant regime of sanctions" after Iran apparently spurned an offer to negotiate over its suspect nuclear program, US President Barack Obama said Tuesday.
In his most extensive remarks on Iran in some time, Obama said Iran appears to have spurned his offer of engagement. He said Iran is still pursuing a nuclear program that would lead to nuclear weapons.
"They have made their choice so far, although the door is still open," Obama told reporters at the White House.
Obama said work to broaden economic sanctions applied by the United Nations Security Council is moving along quickly, but he gave no specific timeline. He hinted at a troublespot, saying China's crucial vote is not assured.
Obama also said the United Nations penalties are only one part of an international squeeze on Iran, a reference to a sequence of economic strictures that could be applied by the European Union and individual countries over the next several months.
Obama spoke during a surprise appearance Tuesday in the White House briefing room. Iran began enriching uranium to a higher level on Tuesday
, raising fears that the process could eventually be used to give the Islamic republic nuclear weapons.
Even before the announcement that Iran had taken that provocative step, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he believed the UN should slap new sanctions on Iran in "weeks, not months," according to his spokesman Tuesday.
France and the US said Monday Iran's action left no choice but to push harder for a fourth set of UN Security Council sanctions to punish Iran's nuclear defiance. Russia, which has close ties to Iran and has opposed new sanctions, appeared to edge closer to Washington's position, saying the new enrichment plans show the suspicions about Iran's intentions are well-founded.
Iranian state television said that the process began in the presence of inspectors from the UN nuclear watchdog agency. Uranium has to be enriched to fuel nuclear power plants and Iran needs the 20 percent enriched fuel for a research reactor producing medical isotopes.
Enriching uranium to 90 percent, however, creates the material for nuclear weapons, which many countries are afraid Iran is seeking. Iran denies the charge.
In effort to defuse the crisis, the International Atomic Energy Agency brokered a deal last year in which Iran would ship out its low enriched uranium to be processed abroad and returned a year later.
Iran initially rejected the deal, then later said that if an acceptable
alternative could be reached, it would not continue the high level
Obama said the offer was a "good deal" that Iran walked away from. He
also said it can be difficult to get a real answer from the Iranian
government, since different parts of the regime sometimes appear to
contradict one another.