Washington remains interested in joining any direct nuclear talks with Iran if it heeds UN Security Council demands, a US envoy said Tuesday, even as Tehran warned that America will regret detaining five Iranian officials in Iraq.
Gregory L. Schulte, the chief US delegate to the International Atomic Energy Organization, spoke outside a 35-nation board meeting focusing on Iran's nuclear defiance of the council and against a backdrop of heightened anti-US rhetoric coming out of Tehran over the detentions.
The US military has said the five Iranians held in Iraq since January are suspected of links to a network supplying arms to insurgents - an accusation that Iran has denied.
Iran claims the men were diplomats and that the building US troops occupied was a government liaison office. It also says the five were guests of the Iraqi government, and has demanded their release. Iraqi government officials have also called for their release, along with compensation for damages.
"We will make the Americans regret their ugly and illegal act," Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was quoted by Tehran's official IRNA news agency as saying. He did not elaborate.
However, Mottaki added that Iran was still willing to continue direct talks with the United States on Iraq, which began last month in Baghdad, breaking a 27-year diplomatic freeze between the two foes.
And in Vienna, Schulte said if Iran obeyed the UN Security Council by suspending its enrichment activities and its work on a reactor that will produce plutonium, Washington also was ready to talk with Iran about its nuclear program in a multilateral framework.
That offer first was made last year by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as part of attempts by the United States and five other world powers to persuade Iran to suspend enrichment activities in return for talks on a package of political and economic incentives.
"She's ready to go to the table with our partners from Russia, China and Europe," Schulte told Associated Press Television News. "All the Iranians have to do is ... suspend ... uranium enrichment (and) plutonium production that aren't necessary for civil purposes but are necessary if you want to build the bomb."
If Tehran remains intransigent, however, "I think my colleagues in New York are going to be working on a third set of sanctions give them additional impetus," he said, alluding to the Security Council.
The prospect of council action appeared more likely after senior Iranian envoy abruptly canceled talks Monday with the head of the IAEA, dashing hopes that the country is ready to end its secrecy about past suspicious nuclear activities.
Javeed Vaidi's decision to opt out of a meeting with IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei was also likely to give support to critics of Tehran at the board meeting in Vienna.
An IAEA report two weeks ago provided the potential trigger for new UN sanctions, saying Iran continued to defy the Security Council and was instead expanding its enrichment activities. Tehran insists it wants to develop an enrichment program to generate energy but there are fears it could misuse it to produce the fissile core of nuclear warheads.
The report was also critical of Iran's refusal to answer questions about nearly two decades of clandestine nuclear activities that first came to light four years ago.