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Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, on Wednesday vowed to establish “crippling” sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme if the Obama administration’s policy of engagement with Tehran should fail.

Mrs Clinton was speaking at the US House of Representatives, where two legislators unveiled a proposal to slap sanctions on companies such as Lloyd’s of London, Total and BP unless they halted their involvement in exporting refined oil to Iran or constructing refineries within the country.

But the secretary of state expressed her confidence that the Obama administration’s approach would be enough to win the support from the world’s other big powers for tougher measures against Iran should the US’s outreach fail.

“We are also laying the groundwork for the kind of very tough sanctions . . . crippling sanctions, that might be necessary in the event that our offers are either rejected or the process is inconclusive or unsuccessful,” she told the House foreign affairs committee.

Her comments came as Iran said that it would continue its nuclear programme in spite of welcoming the prospect of talks with the US, Russia, China, Germany, France and the UK.

“Iran as before welcomes constructive and fair talks based on mutual respect in a co-operation atmosphere,” said the country’s Supreme National Security, according to local agencies.

The US is set to join the talks for the first time as a “full participant” in line with its policy of engaging Iran in nuclear and regional security talks.

But Iransaid that it would continue its nuclear programme under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which permits the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

While Tehran insists that its nuclear programme is purely peaceful, the US and other leading powers say it is seeking nuclear weapons capacity.

Championing his proposal for sanctions on refined oil exports to Iran, Brad Sherman, a Californian Democratic Congressman, said: “Iran’s need to import a significant portion of its gasoline is among the best levers we have at our disposal.”

The legislation, which has the support of more than 20 Republican and Democratic legislators, would extend current US sanctions to suppliers, brokers, insurers and tankers involved in supplying refined oil to Iran or building refineries inside the country.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.

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