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U.S. officials talk tough on Iran sanctions

By Jill Dougherty and Charley Keyes, CNN
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U.N. watchdog censures Iran
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.N. nuclear watchdog agency demands Iran stop work on nuclear facility
  • "It sends a strong signal of serious international concern," U.S. official says
  • U.S. warns Iran it's ready to push for significantly stronger sanctions
  • Iran says its nuclear development is for peaceful purposes

Washington (CNN) -- The United States warned Iran on Friday it is prepared to push for significantly stronger economic sanctions against it in the wake of the U.N nuclear watchdog's resolution censuring Tehran's nuclear program.

Senior administration officials spoke with reporters on the condition their names not be used said.

"We are committed to putting together a package of consequences if we don't find a willing partner. We hope Iran takes note of that clear message," one senior official said.

On Friday, the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. agency, passed a resolution, demanding Iran stop construction of its previously secret nuclear facility at Qom as well as stop uranium enrichment that can be used for producing fuel for a nuclear device. Twenty-five nations backed the IAEA move.

The United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany endorsed the resolution. Until recently, Russia and China have resisted the push for imposing strong sanctions on Iran.

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The officials called the resolution significant because it underscores the unity of purpose among the six countries. "There was an intensive diplomatic effort that went into this," one of the officials said.

"It sends a strong signal of serious international concern about Iran's continued noncompliance" with demands by the IAEA and to the U.N. Security Council, an official said. "[Iran] is essentially not playing by international rules."

The officials denied the United States intends to hurt the Iranian people. Some critics of sanctions argue that stronger sanctions will only deepen the economic plight of Iranians.

"Nothing that we contemplate or we would consider is aimed at causing greater harm for the Iranian people who have suffered enough as a result of repression of people's efforts to express themselves peacefully since the elections on June 12," an official said.

The officials would not confirm media reports that two senior U.S. officials while in China warned the Chinese that Israel might take unilateral action against Iran's nuclear program. They said, however, the United States has made clear its concern with the possible consequences of Iran's noncompliance.

"The last thing the Middle East needs right now," an official said, "with all the other challenges that face it is another source of insecurity and instability, and that is exactly where continued Iranian noncompliance is going to lead."

Despite the resolution and tough talk, the officials repeated that the United States is still ready to engage with Iran and that Tehran can reap benefits if it divulges full details of its nuclear program.

Iran maintains its nuclear development is solely for peaceful purposes.