WASHINGTON The White House welcomed a resolution on Iran's nuclear program on Friday by the United Nations atomic energy watchdog, and said the United States will keep up pressure on Tehran to abandon its drive for a nuclear bomb.
The resolution by the International Atomic Energy Agency expressing growing concern about Iran's atomic work had exposed "the hollowness of Iran's claims" that its nuclear program was for purely civilian purposes, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.
"The whole world now knows that Iran not only sought to hide its uranium enrichment program from the world for more than two decades, but also engaged in covert research and development related to activities that can have only one application: building a nuclear warhead," he said.
The resolution won overwhelming support at a meeting of the IAEA, but did not mention concrete punitive steps, reflecting Russian and Chinese opposition to backing Iran into a corner.
Washington already has orchestrated tough sanctions against Iran at the United Nations.
"The United States will continue this pressure until Iran chooses to depart from its current path of international isolation, both in concert with our partners as well as unilaterally," the White House statement said.
U.S. officials are reviewing sanctions against Iran's financial services sector, but said last week the idea of trying to cut off the Iranian central bank entirely was off the table for now.
The Iranian central bank acts as a clearing house for the country's petroleum industry, and sanctions could have consequences for global oil prices and growth.
However, lawmakers in the U.S. Congress are actively considering proposals to target Iran's central bank.
Republican Senator Mark Kirk this week introduced an amendment he says is intended to "collapse" Iran's central bank. The amendment would require sanctions on foreign financial institutions that do business with Iran's central bank.
A similar proposal by House Democrat Howard Berman already has passed a committee in the House of Representatives.
While there were no good options for dealing with Iran's nuclear program, economic sanctions might be successful in prodding Iran to change its behavior, said Democratic Representative Adam Smith.
"Military action in Iran would be very, very problematic for the region," Smith, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, told the Council on Foreign Relations, a Washington think tank.
"While we certainly have to keep the military option on the table, the focus I think has to be economic sanctions."
(Reporting by Alister Bull, Susan Cornwell and Arshad Mohammed; editing by Eric Walsh and Christopher Wilson)