UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States said on Sunday that Iran has left the U.N. Security Council no choice but to increase sanctions on the Islamic Republic for ignoring demands that it halt sensitive nuclear activities.
The U.S. declaration came a day after an informal deadline lapsed for Iran to respond to an offer from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia for talks on its disputed nuclear program.
“It is clear that the government of Iran has not complied with the international community’s demand to stop enriching uranium and isn’t even interested in trying,” said Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations.
“They leave the Security Council no choice but to increase the sanctions, as called for in the last resolution passed.”
Tehran has not formally responded to the offer. But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Saturday that Iran would not back down in its nuclear dispute with the powers, which have supported three rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions.
“In whichever negotiation we take part ... it is unequivocally with the view to the realization of Iran’s nuclear right and the Iranian nation would not retreat one iota from its rights,” Ahmadinejad said in a statement.
The U.S. statement was noticed by oil traders. Concern about Iran’s nuclear program was one of the reasons the price of oil rose by more than $1 to over $126 a barrel shortly before 7 p.m. EDT.
The West accuses Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian power program. Iran, the world’s fourth-largest oil producer, says its uranium enrichment drive is aimed solely at generating electricity.
A spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said in Brussels that he and Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, would discuss the six powers’ offer soon. She gave no further details.
Western officials gave Tehran two weeks from July 19 to respond to their offer not to impose more U.N. sanctions on Iran if it froze any expansion of its nuclear work.
That suggested a deadline of August 2 but Iran, which has repeatedly ruled out curbing any of its nuclear activities, dismissed the idea of having two weeks to reply.
The five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany have appointed Solana to be their liaison with Iran.
Israel and the United States have hinted that they could attack Iran’s nuclear facilities if it remains defiant. Speculation about a potential attack on Iran has been causing jitters on oil markets in recent months.
But the founder and head of the global intelligence company Stratfor, George Friedman, told weekly magazine Barron’s that the chance of a U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran is slim because the risks to the world economy far outweigh possible benefits.
The U.S. delegation at the United Nations might have to put some pressure on the rest of the council to discuss Iran again. Diplomats from some of the 14 other council members have said they would prefer not to enter into negotiations on another round of sanctions against Iran for now.
One of the main reasons for council members’ reluctance to take up Iran now is the U.S. presidential election in November and what it could mean for U.S. policy on Iran.
U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama, a Democrat, has criticized Republican President George W. Bush’s handling of the issue and has promised greater engagement with Tehran.
Republican candidate John McCain has criticized Obama’s suggestion that he would pursue direct talks with Tehran.
The other reason for the council’s reluctance is that Russia and China do not want to discuss sanctions now. Diplomats say the two veto-wielding council members want to give Iran time to consider the offer of economic and political incentives in exchange for a suspension of enrichment.
Moscow and Beijing reluctantly backed all three rounds of U.N. sanctions against Iran but pushed hard to try to water them down beforehand in negotiations on the resolutions.
Separately, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in Tehran on Sunday that Damascus was not mediating or bringing a message from the West to Iran over its disputed nuclear plans but could play a role to help defuse the issue in future.
Assad made his comments during a two-day trip to Iran that followed a visit to Paris in July, when he told French President Nicolas Sarkozy he would use his good ties with Tehran to help resolve the atomic stand-off.
Additional reporting by the Tehran bureau, Ingrid Melander in Brussels, Robert MacMillan in New York and Fayen Wong in Perth; Editing by Doina Chiacu