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Gates, Western Officials Dismiss Iran Nuke Proposal

Western powers pressured Tehran on Saturday to commit to a proposal designed to dispel concerns about its nuclear program, dismissing conciliatory comments from Iranian officials as mere rhetoric meant to forestall new sanctions.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, on a trip to Turkey, said it may be time to take a "different tack" with Tehran. Other top defense officials at the Munich Security Conference rejected overtures from Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki as nothing new.

The frustration reflects concerns that Iran will use the proposal only to buy more time to advance its nuclear ambitions and thwart sanctions.

"I have to say unfortunately this is not a new transparency," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said. "It does not mean there is a change — that is the situation and we have to face it."

Standing in the way of new sanctions, however, is China, whose Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in Munich on Friday urged the world to be patient and keep up diplomatic efforts with Iran.

The IAEA has proposed to have Iran export a significant amount of low-enriched uranium for processing, to be returned as refined fuel rods that can power reactors but cannot be readily turned into weapons-grade material.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this week suggested he would agree to the proposal, but it was unclear how much of a concession his comments represented.

Among other things, his time frame of four or five months appeared to fall short of the year that Western officials say it would take for Iran's enriched fuel to be turned into fuel rods for the reactor. He also did not address whether his country was ready to ship out most of its stockpile in one batch — another condition set by the six world powers, the five Security Council nations and Germany, endorsing the fuel swap.

Mottaki said met with International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano behind closed doors Saturday. Afterward, Mottaki told reporters the two had discussed the details of the export proposal, but he did not mention any tangible progress.

"I personally see the situation as positive for reaching an understanding," he said.

Amano would not comment on specific details of the discussion.

"There was not a proposal," he told The AP. "We exchanged views."

The U.S. and its Western allies have been pushing for a fourth round of U.N. sanctions to be slapped on Iran.

German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg dismissed Mottaki's comments as a "transparent play for time."

Russia, which has been skeptical of any new U.N. penalties, even indicated Saturday that they were losing patience.

"They must cooperate fully with the IAEA and close those questions that have been on the table for a long time," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

In Ankara, Gates rejected Mottaki's comments that progress was being made.

"The reality is they've done nothing to assure the international community" or "to stop their progress toward (building) a nuclear weapon," Gates said.

"And therefore various nations need to think about whether it is time for a different tack."

In Munich, meanwhile, U.S. national security adviser Ret. Gen. James Jones, spoke of Iran's continued "puzzling defiance" and said there were no indications that the country was willing to pursue a new course.

Tehran maintains its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes, such as electricity production, but Western powers are concerned Iran is trying to build an atomic weapon. Iran now possesses more than enough enriched uranium for at least one nuclear warhead.

"Iran is the only country in the region that has publicly declared its intent to destroy another country in the region," Gates told reporters in Turkey, in reference to Iran's threats to Israel. If Iran proceeds with this program "unrestrained," there is a "real danger of proliferation" that would destabilize the region, he added.

Referring to the Chinese call for more diplomatic efforts with Iran, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said that Iran's response has "so far gone without adequate response."

"I agree with the Chinese foreign minister that the possibilities of dialogue are not exhausted, but dialogue takes two," she said.