|"People are tired of the . . . stalling tactics," Rice said.|
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accused Iran yesterday of not being serious at weekend talks about its disputed nuclear program despite the presence of a senior US diplomat, and she warned it could soon face more sanctions.
In her first public comments since Saturday's meeting in Switzerland, Rice said Iran had not seriously engaged with envoys from the United States and five other world powers. She said all six nations were serious about a two-week deadline by which Iran has to agree to freeze suspect activities and start negotiations or be hit with new penalties.
Rice was briefed on the meeting by the State Department's No. 3 diplomat, Undersecretary of State William Burns, who attended the session in a shift from Washington's previous insistence that it would not meet with the Iranians unless enrichment of uranium had stopped.
In Abu Dhabi yesterday, Rice met with Burns privately. Both then discussed Iran and other issues in closed-door meetings with foreign ministers and senior officials from six Gulf Arab states along with Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan.
Along with the United States and Israel, the mainly Sunni Muslim Gulf Arabs are increasingly wary of the heavy-handed actions of majority Shi'ite Iran.
After the meetings, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, who attended the talks, said Arab states wanted to avoid any "military conflict" between Iran and the West, according to Egypt's official MENA news agency.
"The Arab position is to work toward a political and diplomatic settlement under which Iran will maintain the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes but at the same time, we don't want to see another military nuclear power in this region," MENA quoted him as saying.
Meanwhile, world oil prices rose above $130 a barrel in part on concerns that the threat of new sanctions against Iran might escalate tensions in the Middle East.
At Saturday's meeting, Iran had been expected to respond to a package of incentives offered in exchange for halting enrichment of uranium, which can be used to fuel atomic weapons. The Bush administration broke with long-standing policy to send a top diplomat to support the offer.
However, Rice said that instead of a coherent answer, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili delivered a "meandering" monologue full of irrelevant "small talk about culture" that appeared to annoy many of the others present at the table in Geneva.
"We expected to hear an answer from the Iranians but, as has been the case so many times with the Iranians, what came through was not serious," Rice told reporters aboard her plane as she flew to the United Arab Emirates. "It's time for the Iranians to give a serious answer.
"They can't go and stall and make small talk about culture, they have to make a decision," she said. "People are tired of the Iranians and their stalling tactics."
Rice's remarks about the Iranian presentation were much harsher than those of the host of the meeting, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who lamented only that Iran had not provided "all the answers to the questions."
On Sunday, Iranian state radio reported that President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad called the talks a "step ahead."
On Saturday, one member of the Iranian delegation said there was "no chance" Iran would suspend uranium enrichment, again denying assertions that Iran's nuclear program was for anything other than power production.