The world’s nuclear watchdog said on Friday Iran had ignored U.N. calls for it to stop enriching uranium. Western powers said they would urge tougher U.N. action as a result.
The watchdog said Iran had not come clean over activities that Tehran says aim solely to produce nuclear power but Western countries suspect are geared at building the bomb.
Iran vowed to go on purifying uranium regardless and said it saw nothing negative in the report by Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
But the United States and Britain said they would call next week for the United Nations to tell, not ask, Iran to comply.
“The Agency is unable to make progress in its efforts to provide assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran,” the report said.
“The existing gaps in knowledge continue to be a matter of concern. Any progress in that regard requires full transparency and active cooperation by Iran,” it said. “These transparency measures are not yet forthcoming.”
President Bush said he wanted to prevail on the Iranians, “to convince them, peacefully convince them, that they ought to give up their weapons ambitions”.
At the United Nations in New York, Western diplomats said they planned to introduce a Security Council resolution by mid- week that would require Tehran to curb its nuclear ambitions.
“The point is to enhance international pressure on Iran, to show just how isolated they are,” said U.S. envoy John Bolton.
Britain’s Emyr Jones Parry said he would submit a draft that would not threaten sanctions or military force but make council demands binding under international law.
Iran ignored a March council call for it to suspend uranium enrichment, a process used for bombs as well as electricity.
The United States, backed by Britain and France, favors limited sanctions if Iran refuses to shelve enrichment quickly.
Russia and China, the Security Council’s other two veto-holding permanent members who want to protect lucrative stakes in Iran’s energy sector, have so far opposed such moves.
Western diplomats said China and Russia were unlikely to veto the resolution, but may block any eventual sanctions.
SPEEDING UP ENRICHMENT
The IAEA report said Iran had accelerated efforts to purify uranium in the last month and sidestepped questions designed to check if its nuclear program was purely civilian.
But Iran said the IAEA report was not damning.
“The report does not contain negative points. It shows the agency still has the capacity to review Iran’s nuclear case,” said Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency. “The remaining issues are not major.”
Hours before the IAEA report was circulated, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran would disregard any U.N. measure to rein in its nuclear project.
“Those who want to prevent Iranians from obtaining their right, should know that we do not give a damn about such resolutions,” he told a rally in northwest Iran.
Iran has vowed to hit U.S. targets worldwide if attacked by Washington, which has not ruled out military options.
The IAEA noted that Iran promised in a letter this week to give a timetable for answers within three weeks, but made this, as well as continued access for inspectors to declared nuclear installations, conditional on Iran’s atomic dossier staying under IAEA, not Security Council, supervision.
This looked like a veiled threat to sever ties with the IAEA if the council acts. Diplomats said such a step could signal Iran’s exit from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The report said IAEA tests confirmed Iran’s claim this month to have enriched uranium with a cascade of 164 centrifuge machines to the low level needed to fuel nuclear power plants. It must be purified to a much higher level for bomb-making.
Iran, it said, was also building two new cascades of 164 centrifuges at its underground enrichment plant in Natanz.
The report said questions persisted over Iranian research on advanced “P-2” centrifuges, which can enrich uranium two to three times faster than the older “P-1” model Iran now runs.
With P-2s, Iran could cut the time it would need to make bomb-grade fuel, currently seen at 3-10 years, analysts say.
Iran is refusing to let the IAEA conduct short-notice visits to sites where it suspects undeclared nuclear activity.
U.S. envoy Bolton said the draft would call Iran’s nuclear program a threat to “international peace and security”. Iran will have a “short time” to comply, after which Western powers would consider targeted sanctions against individuals and trade.
“They have to comply or the Security Council is prepared to take other steps,” he said, adding that if that failed action could be taken “within or without the Security Council”.