The Bush administration is trying to rally other nations to agree to impose U.N. sanctions on Iran (search) to force it to negotiate an end to its nuclear programs.
Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns accused Iran of misleading the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency with the guise of seeking a civilian program.
"We fully expect that the IAEA will refer this issue to the United Nations Security Council (search), where it should be," Burns said. "Iran must (face the) judgment of the international community, now that it has acted in defiance of the international community."
Burns did not rule out entirely that Iran might resume now-stalled negotiations with the European Union. He told The Associated Press Wednesday: "It is our judgment there is life left in the diplomatic process."
Britain, France and Germany, negotiating in behalf of the European Union and with U.S. support, has offered Iran economic incentives to stop converting uranium into fuel that could be used for nuclear weapons.
The United States, has offered Iran spare parts for commercial aircraft and a help in becoming a member of the World Trade Organization (search).
But with the talks stalemated, the administration clearly is losing patience.
Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said on a trip to India on Wednesday that Iran wanted to cooperate in a serious way with the International Atomic Energy Agency (search).
The Bush administration was not impressed.
"It sounds like a lot more words that are not backed by any actions," Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, said. "We would encourage them to take the deal that is on the table now. It's a good deal."
The administration evidently has won over President Jacques Chirac of France to take a hard line.
In an ultimatum issued on Monday, Chirac warned Iran it would face censure by the U.N. Security Council if it did not reinstate a freeze on sensitive nuclear activities under an accord reached in Paris in November.
"The use of civilian nuclear energy, which is perfectly legitimate, must not serve as a pretext for pursuing activities that could actually be aimed at building up a military nuclear arsenal," he said.
Burns said he expected the governors of the IAEA in a meeting in two weeks to "exercise their responsibility" and send the dispute to the Security Council.
And there, Burns said, "It is up to the international community to find a way to pressure Iran to go back to a position of negotiations and to suspend its nuclear activities."
While not specifying whether the administration wanted censure of Iran and economic and political penalties imposed, Burns said "there has to be a graduated series of steps to bring Iran back to a position of negotiations and suspension of its nuclear activities."