VIENNA, Austria – Iran faced a deadline Saturday to freeze work that could enable it to make an atomic weapon. European Union representatives warned Tehran had just weeks before a likely referral to the Security Council.
The probability of Security Council referral grew after an IAEA report revealed Friday that Tehran had pumped out about 7 tons of the gas it needs for uranium enrichment since restarting the conversion process last month.
Key European nations awaited the results of the report, setting Saturday as an informal deadline for Tehran to reimpose its freeze or face the threat of referral to the council.
Diplomats from EU countries accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency said talks with other members of the 35-nation IAEA board of governors geared at finding consensus on referral would begin Monday in Vienna.
They said that as a Sept. 19 board meeting grows closer, ministers including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and EU counterparts from France, Germany and Britain will likely get involved in drafting the language of a resolution demanding that the Security Council deal with Iran’s refusal to stop uranium conversion, a precursor to uranium enrichment.
On Saturday, a Vienna-based diplomat said the European Union felt betrayed by Iran’s move.
“The Iranians have destroyed the basis for dialogue,” he said.
The diplomats said Tehran could still avoid referral by reimposing a freeze on such activities before the start of the board meeting.
That appeared unlikely, however.
Iranian state television on Friday cited Ali Larijani, Iran’s point-man on nuclear issues, as saying his country would “confine its cooperation with the IAEA (only) to IAEA regulations and to defined international agreements.”
Iran argues that it is not breaking international law by carrying out activities linked to uranium enrichment and insists its intentions are only to generate nuclear power.
The newly released report, prepared by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, revealed the amount produced of uranium hexafluoride, the gaseous feed stock that is spun by centrifuges into enriched uranium. Depending on the level of enrichment, that substance can be used either as a source of power or as the core of nuclear weapons.
The document did not make a determination on whether Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapon.
But David Albright, a former IAEA nuclear inspector, said that – were Tehran to use the material for weapons purposes – it would suffice for one atomic bomb.
Tehran last month rejected economic and other incentives offered by Britain, France and Germany – negotiating on behalf of the EU – and resumed uranium conversion.
Iran argues that it has a right to enrichment for peaceful purposes.