WASHINGTON – U.S. and British diplomats said Monday that Iran has had long enough to consider a proposed deal to give up disputed parts of its nuclear program, but they gave no specifics about what the world will do if Iran does not budge.
Neither Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice nor British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett sounded confident that Tehran will give a definitive response this week, as the nations that made the offer had said they wanted.
Beckett said the package merits "a warm and ready welcome" from Iran.
Rice raised anew the possibility that the world could punish or coerce Iran through the United Nations Security Council if it fails to end a nuclear fuel manufacturing program that the West fears could lead to a bomb. Iran claims its nuclear program is intended to produce electricity.
"We hope that the Iranians choose the path before them for cooperation, but of course we can always return to the other path should we need to," Rice said after a meeting at the State Department with her British counterpart.
It is unclear what will happen if Iran delays until mid-August its response to the nearly six-week-old offer, as it says it plans to do. The lingering Iranian nuclear issue is expected to dominate next week's gathering of leaders of the largest industrial democracies plus Russia, and it is the subject of separate diplomatic sessions this week in Europe.
Earlier Monday, Rice's spokesman said Iran is trying to "play kick the can down the road" by delaying a response.
"They want to string the international community along while they continue to make progress on their nuclear program," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. "The international community says, 'No, we're not going to play that game,' so provide an answer to us."
Rice and Beckett are set to discuss Iran again Wednesday in Paris, along with representatives from France, Germany, Russia and China.
Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief who presented the offer to Iran, hopes to hear a substantive response from Iran's top nuclear negotiator on Tuesday.
The deal would trade economic benefits, nuclear expertise and reactors in exchange for a pledge by Iran to suspend uranium enrichment activities.
Iranian government officials say they need to clear up "ambiguities" in the package, and have brushed aside U.S. demands that they respond before the Paris meeting.
On Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki warned the major industrial powers against making any decisions on Iran's nuclear program without consulting it first, arguing that this could harm Tehran's talks with the EU.
Mottaki reiterated that Iran would, in August, give a formal response to the offer by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany.
EU officials have said Iran probably would seek explanations of some aspects of the offer and submit a counterproposal at Tuesday's talks.