WASHINGTON – The Bush administration on Monday reaffirmed its intent to pursue U.N. sanctions against Iran if it defies an approaching deadline to halt its uranium enrichment.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said it is the will of the international community "to go down the pathway of sanctions" if Iran does not comply with U.N. demands that it stop the program and open its facilities to international inspection.
Not only is Iran enriching uranium, a key step in making nuclear weapons, it is building heavy water facilities that could be used to produce plutonium for weapons, McCormack said.
Iran said Monday it was not concerned with the U.N. deadline.
"Moving in the international framework is not a matter of concern for us," government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham said in Tehran, the capital of Iran.
Iran consistently has denied it has a nuclear weapons program, saying its nuclear programs are of a civilian nature.
Iran offered last week to pursue negotiations but declined to suspend uranium enrichment as a precondition. The State Department described the proposal as serious, but said it fell short of what Iran must do, and that it would consult with other governments on next steps.
Russia, whose support in the U.N. Security Council for sanctions is essential, publicly counseled patience with Iran. This could signal reluctance to go along with the U.S.
McCormack said not only would the United States pursue U.N. sanctions if Iran did not stop uranium enrichment, it would hold talks with other governments about applying financial pressure on Iran.
He accused Iran of taking a position of defiance and said it was disappointing.
Separately, Stuart Levey, the Treasury Department's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, called Iran a "central banker of terror."
"Iran is like the elephant in the room if you will," he told The Associated Press in an interview. "They are the central banker of terror. It is a country that has terrorism as a line-item in its budget."
At the same time, McCormack said former Iranian president Mohammed Khatami had been granted a visa to speak next month at the Washington National Cathedral.
He would be the most senior Iranian official to visit Washington since Islamic fundamentalists seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held Americans there hostage for 44 days.
The Rev. Canon John L. Peterson, director of the cathedral's Center for Global Justice and Reconciliation, said Khatami was invited to speak on the role the three Abrahamic faiths — Islam, Christianity and Judaism — can play in shaping peace.
Khatami also is due to participate at a U.N. conference Sept. 5-6.