The Obama administration said Friday that it was planning additional economic sanctions against Iran and acknowledged that the Islamic Republic might be trying to manipulate the West by continuing slow-moving talks with the U.S. and five other major powers.
Gary Samore, the top White House official on nonproliferation, said in a speech in Washington that the U.S. and its allies would increase pressure on Tehran until it agreed to negotiations on its disputed nuclear program.
The West, he said, would "test how high Iran's pain threshold is."
Samore didn't specify what kind of punishment the administration was contemplating. But Western officials have said the next step would be to stiffen a round of sanctions imposed in July that seek to cut off international financing for Iran, restrict its trade and retard investment in its lucrative energy sector.
Samore's speech represents a striking shift from the administration's position Tuesday during discussions with Iran in Geneva, when U.S. officials said progress was being made at the meeting, which was also attended by China, Russia, Germany, France and Britain.
"We and our allies are determined to maintain and even increase pressure," Samore told a gathering hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "We need to send the message to Iran that sanctions will only increase if Iran avoids serious negotiations and will not be lifted until our concerns are fully addressed."
U.S. officials said before the Geneva meeting that they didn't want to meet with the Iranians "just for the sake of talking." They insisted that a new meeting would not be scheduled unless they saw signs that Iran was committed to serious discussions about its nuclear program.
The six powers at the Geneva talks agree that Iran has violated its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and that it should not be enriching uranium. Nevertheless, they also arranged to meet with Iran next month in Istanbul, Turkey.
Iranian officials have pronounced the Geneva meetings a diplomatic success because they were able to publicize their grievances against the West without giving ground on the nuclear issue.
The Obama administration is under pressure from Congress, Israel and some Arab states to halt the Iranian nuclear program before Tehran masters the ability to make a nuclear bomb. U.S. officials estimate that could take from one to three more years. Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes only.