U.S. official says Iran becoming a pariah state

SEOUL (Reuters) – A senior U.S. official on Monday said the situation over Iran’s nuclear program was becoming increasingly worrying and an urgent diplomatic solution needs to be found.

The United States and Israel have not ruled out military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities if diplomacy fails to resolve a dispute over a program they suspect is aimed at developing atomic weapons.

Iran denies it is seeking nuclear weapons and says it would respond to any strike by attacking Israel and U.S. interests in the Gulf.

“Iran is violating international obligations and norms. It is becoming a pariah state,” Robert Einhorn, the State Department senior adviser for non-proliferation and arms control, told a news conference in the South Korean capital.

“The situation in Iran has become more and more worrisome. The timeline for its nuclear program is beginning to get shorter, so it is important we take these strong steps on an urgent basis.

“If we do not, pressures will grow for much stronger actions. The U.S. favours a diplomatic solution pressure, but if we cannot achieve a diplomatic solution soon, inevitably interests will grow in a different kind of solution. That is why we need to act soon.”

Iran’s nuclear ambitions, its claim to have shot down a U.S. spy drone in its airspace on Sunday and last week’s storming of the British embassy in Tehran by protesters has contributed to a sharp increase in tensions in the region.

He said enforcing sanctions would force Iran to negotiate seriously.

Western nations last week significantly tightened sanctions against Iran, with the European Union expanding an Iranian blacklist and the Senate passing a measure that could severely disrupt Iran’s oil income.

Einhorn said the latest round of sanctions do not include crude oil imports, crucial to energy-starved economies like South Korea.

“But we discourage countries from continuing to import crude oil in large quantities,” added Einhorn, acknowledging that at the present time “pressure was tight” on the oil market.

“We are conscious of energy security needs of countries like the Republic of Korea and don’t want to interfere with those needs,” he said, of Asia’s fourth largest economy.

Einhorn said he had received a positive response during talks with South Korean officials about tightening sanctions, adding Seoul was considering what additional measures to take.

(Reporting by Jeremy Laurence, Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)

Egypt awaits election results

Cairo (CNN) — Initial results of Egypt’s first parliamentary elections since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak are due as early as Thursday.

Both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Al Noor Salafi Muslim Party have claimed a lead in ballot counting, but election officials have been tight-lipped.

Voting took place Monday and Tuesday, the first in a multi-step process to pick members of the lower house of parliament.

The lawmakers will then be tasked with drafting a new constitution.

It was the first time some Egyptians — young and old — ever cast ballots after three decades of Mubarak’s rule.

Some voters and human rights activists expressed hope that their votes will actually count, though some boycotted the elections saying they don’t trust the voting will be free and fair.

There were reports of some illegal campaigning taking place, with the Egyptian Association of Human Rights alleging some cases of vote-buying in the city of Alexandria.

Elections for Egypt’s lower house of parliament are scheduled to take place in three stages, based on geography. The last of the three stages is set to take place in January.

Upper house elections will run between January and March.

Presidential elections will be held by June, according to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Egypt’s acting ruling body. Military leaders have said they will hand over power to a new government when one is elected, but many Egyptians say they don’t trust the council and fear the military will cling to power.

During the past two weeks, at least 42 people have been killed in clashes, as protesters called for an immediate end to military rule. An additional 3,250 have been wounded, according to the Health Ministry.

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