The White House on Tuesday warily welcomed word that the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency was close to a breakthrough agreement with Iran to allow international inspectors to get a look at key sites in Tehran's nuclear program, which world powers say is a secret effort to obtain atomic weapons. Spokesman Jay Carney said the international community would keep tightening tough economic sanctions on Iran.
"We will continue to pressure Tehran, continue to move forward with the sanctions that will be coming online as the year progresses, and we expect those to have the kind of effect on Iran in terms of making it clear to the regime what the price of a continued failure to meet its obligations will mean for that country and for its economy," he said.
Still, Carney told reporters that the possible deal between the Islamic republic and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was "a step forward" in diplomatic efforts to end the tense standoff. President Barack Obama pointedly said that "all options are on the table" -- diplomatic talk for not ruling out the use of military force.
"The president has made clear that there is not an infinite amount of time here for the Iranians to act. That's why it is so important for them to take seriously these negotiations, to take seriously the opportunity created here for Iran to rejoin the community of nations if the leadership so chooses to," Carney said at his daily briefing.
"We will make judgments about Iran's behavior based on actions, not just promises or agreements," he stressed. "Iran faces a choice," the spokesman said. "They can meet their international obligations and rejoin the community of nations, or continue to fail to fulfill their obligations and face significant and harsh consequences, the likes of which we've already seen through the unprecedented and comprehensive sanctions regime that has been leveled against Iran."
Negotiators from the so-called "P5+1" countries -- the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany -- and Iran were due to meet in Baghdad on Wednesday in a second round of talks to seek a way out of the impasse. Tehran denies seeking nuclear weapons. Staunch U.S. ally Israel has said it views a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its existence.
"The first round of negotiations were positive. They produced an opportunity to have a second round tomorrow in Baghdad, and we look for further progress. But we're not at the stage of negotiating what Iran would get in return for fulfillment of its obligations beyond the general principle, which is they would be able to rejoin the community of nations," Carney said.
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