UNITED NATIONS – Iran has once again defied the U.N. Security Council’s repeated demands to halt its nuclear activities, firing up a second line of centrifuges to increase its ability to enrich uranium, according to a report by a semiofficial Iranian news agency.
The report came as U.N. negotiations became bogged down in the face of Russia’s and China’s reluctance to slap tough sanctions on Tehran. U.S. and European officials say they anticipate a long, hard diplomatic struggle over the coming weeks to fashion a formal reaction to Iran’s enrichment activities.
President Bush warned on Friday that it is “unacceptable” for Iran to produce nuclear weapons. But the United States has been stymied in its efforts to gain speedy passage of a sanctions resolution.
Bush said the Iranian report “says to me that we must double our effort to work with the international community to persuade the Iranians that there is only isolation from the world if they continue working forward on such a program.”
“The idea of Iran having a nuclear weapon is unacceptable,” Bush added after a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. “And it’s unacceptable for the United States, and it’s unacceptable to nations we’re working with in the United Nations to send a common message.”
The Security Council passed a resolution on July 31 threatening to consider sanctions against Iran if it did not suspend its enrichment of uranium and a package of incentives. Those incentives, which include greater access to Western markets and guarantees of foreign-supplied nuclear fuel, are backed by the council’s five permanent members – the United States, Russia, France, Britain and China – plus Germany.
Iran says that it is willing to restart talks with the major powers to resolve the nuclear crisis but that it will not agree to suspend its enrichment activities as a precondition. It maintains that it has the right, under the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty, to enrich uranium for the production of nuclear power for what it describes as a purely civilian energy program.
Iran is still years away from producing enough highly enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb, according to analysts. It fired up its first 164-centrifuge line, called a cascade, earlier this year at the Natanz nuclear facility – where Iran plans to operate up to 3,000 centrifuges. But it has been progressing at a slower rate than expected, producing only a tiny sample of enriched uranium.
The Iranian Students’ News Agency, which is close to the government, reported that Iran began injecting UF-6 gas into the new cascade earlier this week, a key step in producing enriched uranium.
An official at the International Atomic Energy Agency declined to confirm or deny the Iranian report. But the agency’s director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, told the Washington Post on Monday that Iran was days away from using the cascade to enrich uranium.