Rice says Iran not serious at weekend nuke talks

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accused Iran on Monday of not being serious at weekend talks about its disputed nuclear program despite the presence of a senior U.S. diplomat, and warned it may soon face new sanctions.

In her first public comments since Saturday's meeting in Switzerland, Rice said Iran had given the run-around to envoys from the U.S. and five other world powers. She said all six nations were serious about a two-week deadline Iran now has to agree to freeze suspect activities and start negotiations or be hit with new penalties.

Rice was briefed on the meeting by the State Department's No. 3 diplomat, Undersecretary of State William Burns, who attended the session in a shift from Washington's previous insistence that it would not meet with the Iranians unless enrichment of uranium had stopped.

In Abu Dhabi on Monday, Rice got a briefing on the talks from Burns. Both then discussed Iran and other issues in meetings with foreign ministers and senior officials from six Gulf Arab states along with Egypt, Iraq and Jordan.

Along with the United States and Israel, the mainly Sunni Muslim Gulf Arabs are increasingly wary of majority Shiite Iran's muscle-flexing in the region.

After the meetings, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, who attended the talks, said Arab states wanted to avoid any “military conflict” between Iran and the West, according to Egypt's official MENA news agency.

“The Arab position is to work toward a political and diplomatic settlement under which Iran will maintain the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes but at the same time, we don't want to see another military nuclear power in this region,” MENA quoted him as saying.

Meanwhile, world oil prices rose above $130 a barrel in part on concerns that the threat of new sanctions against Iran may escalate tensions in the Middle East.

At Saturday's meeting, Iran had been expected to respond to a package of incentives offered in exchange for halting enrichment of uranium, which can be used to fuel atomic weapons. The Bush administration broke with long-standing policy to send a top diplomat to support the offer.

However, Rice said that instead of a coherent answer, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili delivered a “meandering” monologue full of irrelevant “small talk about culture” that appeared to annoy many of the others present at the table in Geneva.

“We expected to hear an answer from the Iranians but, as has been the case so many times with the Iranians, what came through was not serious,” Rice told reporters aboard her plane as she flew to the United Arab Emirates.

“They can't go and stall and make small talk about culture, they have to make a decision,” she said. “People are tired of the Iranians and their stalling tactics.”