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US warns Iran of “growing consequences”

Obama pledges to counter bio-terrorism threat

The United States on Thursday warned Iran would face "growing consequences" if it doesn’t halt its nuclear program and promised to take steps to ensure a faster response to possible biological attacks.

"As Iran's leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt: they, too, will face growing consequences," said U.S. President Barack Obama in the annual State of the Union address.

Obama came to office pushing a new approach toward Iran, but his policy, notable for its different tone and offer of direct talks, has so far failed to convince Tehran to curb its nuclear program.

Iran has not responded to pressure to abandon its nuclear enrichment program, despite warnings of tougher action from the United States and other members of the P5+1 negotiating group, which including China, Britain, France, Russia, the United States and Germany.

Tehran acknowledged the existence of a second, secretly built nuclear enrichment facility in 2009. And it rejected a confidence-building measure that would have enabled it to ship partially enriched uranium out of the country for further enrichment so it could be used in a research reactor. The powers are considering further sanctions against Iran.

As Iran's leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt: they, too, will face growing consequences

U.S. President Barack Obama

Countering bio-terrorism

Meanwhile, Obama promised to take steps to ensure a faster response to the threat posed by bio-terrorism and infectious disease.

"We are launching a new initiative that will give us the capacity to respond faster and more effectively to bio-terrorism or an infectious disease -- a plan that will counter threats at home, and strengthen public health abroad," Obama said.

Obama offered no further details but the White House issued a statement saying government officials would "re-design" medical contingency plans to ensure the speedy delivery of drugs in the case of a major biological attack or the spread of infectious disease.

The effort would take advantage of "market forces" and enlist the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry to reduce the risks posed by biological weapons and infectious disease, it said.

Obama's vow came a day after a bipartisan panel warned the government had failed to take sufficient action to respond to the threat of possible biological attack.

The Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism said in a "report card" that the government's botched response to the swine flu epidemic showed a lack of readiness which it said dated back to previous administrations.

We are launching a new initiative that will give us the capacity to respond faster and more effectively to bio-terrorism or an infectious disease

U.S. President Barack Obama