On Thursday the US State Department turned down Iran’s proposal for international talks in another sign of trouble for the Obama administration's attempts to engage Tehran in nuclear negotiations.
A five-page Iranian proposal distributed to foreign diplomats Wednesday "was not really responsive to our greatest concern, which is obviously Iran's nuclear program," said P.J. Crowley, the senior State Department spokesman.
At the same time, Crowley said, "We remain willing to engage Iran."
The administration faces an approaching deadline on whether to pursue a diplomatic opening with Iran, which was one of President Obama's trademark foreign policy ideas during his presidential campaign.
U.S. officials say Obama will decide by the end of the year whether to continue his offer of negotiations or withdraw it, and step up sanctions to force the Islamic Republic to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
Tehran insists it has the right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to process uranium as part of a peaceful nuclear energy program, but U.S. and European officials allege Iran seeks to develop atomic weapons, the Los Angeles Times reports.
News agencies also report, Iran is ready to begin wide-ranging talks with the West, but is silent on whether it will halt its uranium enrichment program, according to a copy of an Iranian proposal posted on a U.S. website on Thursday.
The five-page document, whose authenticity was confirmed by a diplomat briefed on the proposal, was released by ProPublica (www.propublica.org), an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism.
In the document, which was handed over to major powers on Wednesday, Iran said it was willing to discuss complete global nuclear disarmament in the talks, which it said could cover political-security, international and economic issues.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran voices its readiness to embark on comprehensive, all-encompassing and constructive negotiations aiming at acquiring a clear framework for cooperative relationships," the proposal said.
However, it was silent on the demand by the major powers that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment program, which the West suspects may be a cover for developing nuclear weapons but which Tehran says is solely to produce electrical power.
Among the issues Iran said it was willing to discuss was "putting into action real and fundamental programmes toward complete disarmament and preventing development and proliferation of nuclear, chemical and microbial weapons," Reuters reports.
In the meantime, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made it clear Thursday that Moscow wouldn't back any new rounds of tough sanctions against Iran in the United Nations Security Council, and he dismissed a U.S. timetable for securing progress from Iran on ending its nuclear-fuel program.
Mr. Lavrov's comments in Moscow led U.S. officials to acknowledge that new U.N. sanctions against Iran were now unlikely in the near term -- endangering a major element of President Barack Obama's high-profile strategy for diplomacy in the Middle East. "We're pretty disappointed with the Russian position so far," a senior U.S. official said.
The development also appeared a blow to hopes that the Obama administration's "reset" of relations with Russia would lead to Moscow supporting a top U.S. foreign-policy priority, the Wall Street Journal reports.