U.S. Backs Europe Over Nuclear Iran
BERLIN, Germany (CNN) -- Britain, France and Germany have called for the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog to refer Iran to the Security Council over the country's atomic ambitions.
In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States strongly supports the move and joins the European Union "and many other members of the international community in condemning the Iranian government's deliberate escalation of this issue."
Iran broke U.N. seals on its nuclear enrichment facility this week, insisting it only wants to develop a civilian nuclear power program in accordance with international law. But several Western countries fear Tehran is intent on developing a nuclear bomb.
Foreign ministers from the European Union's three biggest nations -- the so-called EU3 -- met Thursday following Iran's moves to restart its nuclear program.
"Our talks with Iran have reached a dead end," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters after meeting with his British and French counterparts, Jack Straw and Philippe Douste-Blazy, and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. (Watch what option remains after diplomacy and force -- 2:56)
Straw said the group decided to call for an emergency session of the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to vote on referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council.
The ministers did not say exactly what action should be taken by the Security Council, which could impose sanctions.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Thursday Iran's representative on the nuclear issue told him Iran's leaders "are interested in serious and constructive negotiations."
Annan told reporters that he spoke by telephone for 40 minutes with the representative.
"Basically, I called him to urge him to avoid any escalation, to exercise restraint, to go back to give the negotiations a chance, and that the only viable solution lies in a negotiated one," he said.
"He, in turn, affirmed to me that they are interested in serious and constructive negotiations, but within a time frame, indicating that last time they did it for two-and-a-half years with no result."
The decision by the EU3 marks the end of more than two years of diplomatic efforts to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear program.
Rice said Iran's action "demonstrates that it has chosen confrontation with the international community over cooperation and negotiation."
"As a result, the IAEA board of governors must go forward with a report to the U.N. Security Council so that the council can add its weight in support of the ongoing IAEA investigation," she added.
Meanwhile, officials in London and Moscow said envoys from the EU3 would meet counterparts from China, Russia and the U.S. next week in London to discuss the issue further.
Russia, which is building a nuclear reactor in Iran, also has expressed "deep disappointment" over Iran's decision, The Associated Press reported.
A Foreign Ministry statement outlining a phone call between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Rice said both sides shared "a deep disappointment over Tehran's decision to leave behind the moratorium on all activities tied with uranium enrichment, resuming research work in this sphere."
The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal reported that during the call, Lavrov told Rice that Russia would abstain, rather than vote against, efforts to move the issue from the IAEA -- the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog -- to the Security Council.
China, which imports significant amounts of Iranian oil, said it hoped Iran would return to talks on the nuclear dispute and urged all parties to exercise restraint.
"We hope Iran can do more to promote mutual confidence between itself and the EU3, and return to negotiations," Reuters quoted a spokesman for China's foreign ministry, Kong Quan, as saying.
'Small-scale' enrichment work
Iran's move was announced Tuesday by Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, who said: "Nuclear research officially resumed at sites agreed upon with (U.N.) inspectors."
He said Iran was not resuming the production of nuclear fuel, a process that would involve uranium enrichment.
"We differentiate nuclear fuel production with research and access to technology," he said. "Suspension of nuclear fuel production will be continued in the country."
But Mohammed ElBaradei, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, told his agency's governing board that Iran intended to begin "small-scale" uranium enrichment work, Reuters said.
"Iran plans to install a small-scale gas ultracentrifuge cascade in its pilot fuel enrichment plant at Natanz," a Western diplomat told Reuters, reading from ElBaradei's report to the 35-nation board of the IAEA.
Citing the report, the diplomat said that Iran planned to feed a small amount of uranium hexafluoride into centrifuges -- machines that purify uranium for use in nuclear power plants or weapons -- as part its research work on the devices.
The diplomat's comments came as one of Iran's former opposition leaders claimed that the country had secretly produced 5,000 centrifuges at its underground facility in Natanz.
Alireza Jafarzadeh offered no proof. But he added that Iran was also constructing centrifuge cascade platforms at the facility. If Iran possesses the necessary knowledge, the centrifuges could be mounted on the platforms and used to produce highly enriched uranium.
Once the machines are fully operational, Jafarzadeh said, Iran would be "only months away from having enough fissile material for at least one nuclear bomb."
Jafarzadeh -- who would not divulge his source, saying only that it was within the Iranian regime -- called for an emergency meeting of the IAEA board of governors to send the issue of Iran's non-compliance to the U.N. Security Council.
Diplomat: Centrifuges corroded
On Thursday, a Western diplomat who is close to the IAEA told Reuters that Iran had completed the removal of U.N. seals on its nuclear fuel research sites but would need time to refurbish machinery before it could start enriching uranium.
The diplomat said the Iranians would probably have to rebuild their entire cascade of enrichment centrifuges.
"There's a lot of humidity, corrosion. It's going to take a long time," Reuters quoted him as saying.
This is the second time that IAEA seals have been removed in Iran. In August, researchers unsealed equipment at its Isfahan plant and resumed uranium conversion activities.
Uranium conversion is a first step towards uranium enrichment, which could lead to the manufacture of nuclear weapons.
Iran's hard-line conservative government insists its nuclear programs have peaceful aims, and it has the right to restart nuclear facilities and enrich uranium for the production of nuclear energy.
Other nations, however, including the U.S., fear Tehran's true goal is to produce nuclear weapons.
Those fears have been reinforced by recent comments by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has said Israel should be wiped out.
Iran vowed Thursday to press ahead with the nuclear program despite the threat of U.N. referral.
"Unfortunately, a group of bullies allows itself to deprive nations of their legal and natural rights," AP quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.
"I tell those superpowers that, with strength and prudence, Iran will pave the way to achieving peaceful nuclear energy," he said. "The Iranian nation is not frightened by the powers and their noise."
Ali Larijani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, told CNN's Christiane Amanpour in an interview that Iran does not want to get into enrichment on any large scale, and insists its activities are for research purposes only.
Larijani said he hoped sanctions were not pursued, as Tehran believed room for negotiation with the West remained.