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Clinton cautions Iran on nuclear work

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cautioned Tehran of “consequences” if it did not give up sensitive nuclear work and said world powers would discuss a new Iran strategy in talks on Wednesday.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton walks to the podium with Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (L) at the State Department in Washington February 3, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Speaking on Tuesday after meeting separately with British and German foreign ministers, Clinton said the State Department’s point man on Iran, Bill Burns, would put forward the U.S. view at a meeting in Germany with diplomats from China, Russia, Britain, Germany and France.

It will be the first time the Obama administration takes part in a meeting of the six major powers dealing with the Iran dossier. Clinton did not specify what Burns’ message would be but said it was time for Iran to be a “productive member” of the global community.

“If Tehran does not comply with United Nations Security Council and IAEA mandates there must be consequences,” she said, referring to the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency.

President Barack Obama, she said, had made clear his backing for “tough and direct” diplomacy with Tehran, which in a departure from the Bush administration could involve talks with Iran.

“We are reaching out a hand, but the fist has to unclench,” Clinton said at a joint news briefing with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

Speaking to reporters outside the State Department, Miliband said major powers had made clear to Iran that there was a cost to their “defiance.”

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“In due course it will be for the Iranians to make a choice about whether they want to reach out to the hand that is stretched out to them,” he said.

The U.N. Security Council has imposed three rounds of sanctions against Iran for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment, which the West suspects is aimed at building an atomic bomb and Tehran says is for peaceful power purposes.

Clinton has said the United States is willing to push for more sanctions, but she will have a hard time getting permanent U.N. Security Council members China and Russia to go along with additional punitive measures.

Rather than more U.N. sanctions against Tehran, European diplomats say, the result will likely be more bilateral measures outside of the world body.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood declined to give specifics of what Burns, a seasoned diplomat who was also the Bush administration’s key person on Iran, might suggest at the meeting in Wiesbaden, Germany.

He said the outcome of the meeting would be included in an overall Iran policy review that Washington is conducting.

Washington is considering a range of options over how to get Iran to change its behaviour. Aside from direct talks, the Obama administration is mulling a low-level diplomatic presence in Tehran, an action the Bush administration decided to take in principle but left up to its successor.

Additional reporting by John Whitesides; editing by Mohammad Zargham