U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that Tehran could face "crippling" sanctions if diplomatic talks failed to end Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program.
The United States believes its decision to seek to engage Iran over its nuclear program and other issues would increase its leverage to impose sanctions if talks fail," Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington.
"We actually believe that by following the diplomatic path we are on, we gain credibility and influence with a number of nations who would have to participate in order to make the sanctions regime as tight and crippling as we would want it to be," Clinton told U.S. lawmakers.
The United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain said on April 8 they would ask EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana to invite Iran to a meeting to find "a diplomatic solution to this critical issue," referring to the nuclear row.
It marked a significant shift in U.S. policy under President Barack Obama, whose predecessor George W. Bush shunned direct talks with Iran as long as it continued with enrichment activity.
If such talks fail, however, it is unclear whether the United States would actually be able to persuade China and Russia, which have resisted harsh sanctions on Iran, to then impose tougher penalties.
Iran welcomes "constructive" talks with world powers on its nuclear program but insists the Islamic state will press ahead with its disputed work, state television quoted an official statement as saying on Wednesday.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran...welcomes constructive and fair talks based on mutual respect and believes current problems could be resolved through talks," the statement said.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran will continue its nuclear activities in an active interaction with the International Atomic Energy Agency in the framework of the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) like other agency members," it said.
The United States and its Western allies suspect Iran is aiming to develop nuclear bombs and want it to halt sensitive uranium enrichment. Iran rejects the allegation and has repeatedly ruled out halting such activity.