Washington, May 3: With no clear sign the United States can win UN support for sanctions against Iran, the Bush administration said today it could work instead with like-minded nations to punish Tehran for its nuclear programs.
The United States, which has its own sanctions on the Islamic republic, is lobbying for the United Nations Security Council to impose international sanctions on Iran but faces resistance from veto holders Russia and China.
''If for whatever reason the council couldn't fulfill its responsibilities, then I think it would be incumbent on us, and I'm sure we would press ahead to ask other countries or other groups of countries to impose those sanctions,'' John Bolton, US Ambassador to the United Nations, told a House of Representatives government reform subcommittee.
Diplomats have said the United States could seek to persuade Iran's European trade partners to sanction Tehran if it fails to win support for wider sanctions at the council.
Under sharp questioning from Democrats who said President George W Bush appeared intent on war with Iran, Bolton dismissed as ''fiction'' news reports that the United States has covert forces in Iran. He said Bush was focused on diplomatic remedies.
Washington says Iran is pursuing a nuclear program to develop weapons, while Tehran insists it is only for civilian energy needs.
Bolton, along with UN ambassadors from France and Britain are expected to introduce a new Security Council resolution this week.
It would require Tehran to abandon uranium enrichment, invoking Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, making compliance mandatory.
Bolton raised the prospect that Russia and China could abstain rather than veto the Chapter 7 resolution.
''While it would be desirable to have a unanimous Security Council when we adopt this resolution under Chapter 7,'' Bolton said, ''it's not impossible that we would proceed without them.'' AT ODDS ON UN CHANGES As the Bush administration presses for UN action on Iran and to quell the violence in Sudan's Darfur region, the hearing focused on whether UN sanctions can be effective given the corruption in the oil-for-food program in Iraq.
''We need an effectively functioning UN We need a UN that can handle major sanctions programs,'' Bolton said, pressing the administration's case for sweeping reforms at the international body.
He complained that developing nations last week adopted a resolution ''which, for all intents and purposes, tanks'' UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's management reform plan.
Bolton said he hoped those nations, which he said provide around 12 per cent of the UN budget, realize ''that repudiating the countries that contribute the overwhelming bulk of the UN budget isn't a way to win friends and influence people.'' Under questioning by Democrats, Bolton said he had not read an article in the New Yorker magazine that the United States had covert military operations in Iran ''because I don't have time to read much fiction.''
He also rebuffed persistent questions from Democrats on whether in his previous post as the State Department's top arms control diplomat, he had a role in writing administration documents making now discredited assertions about Iraq's pursuit of nuclear weapons.
''I'm sorry to disappoint you, Congressman. I had no role in this issue,'' Bolton told Rep Henry Waxman of California, top Democrat on the Government Reform committee.
Rep Stephen Lynch, a Massachusetts Democrat, remarked that it was ''stunning that you were not in the loop.''