VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ U.S. officials pressed their case Tuesday for sanctioning Iran over its defiance on uranium enrichment, calling for punishment even ahead of a meeting billed as a last-ditch effort to persuade Tehran to freeze its nuclear program.
In a Washington speech on terrorism, President Bush warned that he would never allow a nuclear-armed Iran to blackmail the world and threaten the American people.
Formally, the United States and five other world powers are giving the Iranians a final chance to compromise on enrichment at talks planned for Wednesday between European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and top Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani.
But U.S. officials on both sides of the Atlantic suggested the time had already come for sanctions.
Their comments reflected Washington's skepticism that Tehran would change course in talks with Solana and signal readiness to heed the U.N. Security Council demand for a halt to enrichment, which can produce civilian nuclear fuel or fissile material for an atomic bomb.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington that the Security Council had made clear in a resolution that it was prepared to vote for sanctions if Iran failed to meet the Aug. 31 deadline to suspend enrichment.
The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed on the deadline day that Tehran had failed to cease enrichment.
And so, McCormack said, the United States intended to proceed ``down that pathway.''
Echoing those comments, Gregory L. Schulte, chief U.S. delegate to the IAEA, accused Iran's leaders of making ``a strategic decision to acquire nuclear weapons,'' adding: ``The time has come for the Security Council to back international diplomacy with international sanctions.''
U.N. and European officials told The Associated Press on Monday that Larijani and Solana had tentatively agreed to meet Wednesday to try to bridge differences over the nuclear program. The officials insisted on anonymity for sharing the confidential information.
They said the date and venue could still change, and details were being kept confidential in an apparent attempt not to jeopardize any chance of success.
The Solana-Larijani talks are seen as the last chance for a negotiated solution before the council actively starts work on sanctions. Senior negotiators of the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany are to meet in Berlin on Thursday to discuss the results of Wednesday's meeting.
Iran's unyielding stance appears to be based on the calculation that sanctions will be opposed by Russia and China, both veto-wielding Security Council members that have major commercial ties with Iran.
Also Tuesday, the Iranian parliament took the first step toward requiring the government to block international inspection of Iran's nuclear facilities if the United Nations Security Council imposes sanctions, said Kazem Jalali, a legislator and spokesman of the Foreign Policy and National Security Committee.
He said his panel approved the outline of a bill under which ``the Iranian government is obliged to suspend all inspections by the IAEA inspectors to its nuclear facilities if the U.N Security Council imposes restrictions on the country.'' The measure would need approval of other bodies before it could take effect.
In Moscow on Tuesday, a top Kremlin aide said sanctions against Iran could be counterproductive. Still Igor Shuvalov, a senior aide to President Vladimir Putin, said that ``every possibility is present ... we are not closing the door on anything.''
Shuvalov said that reluctance on sanctions did not imply support for a nuclear-armed Iran. ``We could suffer more than anyone else if they built nuclear weapons,'' he said.
But he cautioned that introduction of economic sanctions could further increase global oil prices and have a negative impact on regional stability. He added that Russia's location next to Iran and former Soviet Muslim republics in Central Asia made it particularly vulnerable.
``We don't mind using a stick, but we don't want that stick to hit us or our partners over the head,'' he said.
Russia is building a nuclear power plant in Bushehr, Iran, to which the United States long objected, saying the plant could be used by Iran to produce material for weapons. Russia eventually worked out a deal with Iran for all the plant's spent fuel to be sent to Russia, theoretically limiting the possibility Iran could reprocess it for arms.
However, Iran has resisted Russia's proposal to conduct all Iran's uranium enrichment on Russian soil.
In June, the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany offered Iran a package of economic and diplomatic incentives to limit its nuclear program. Iran did not respond until Aug. 22. Government officials and diplomats have said Iran did not address a freeze on uranium enrichment _ the key condition sought by the six powers.
Iran's slowness in responding to the incentives package prompted the Security Council to issue the resolution ordering a halt in Iran's uranium enrichment by the end of August.