Iran set to defy UN in uranium showdown
West calls for sanctions over nuclear bomb threat
INTERNATIONAL pressure for new sanctions against Iran grew yesterday after Tehran announced plans to make higher-enriched uranium and add 10 nuclear sites in a year, raising Western fears it wants to develop atom bombs.
The US and France led calls for what would be a fourth, broader set of punitive sanctions, while a senior lawmaker in Russia, which in the past has urged talks rather than punishment, said economic measures should be considered.
A senior US administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, called Iran's announcement "a provocative move" that was in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions and risked increasing regional instability.
Among the big powers, only China, which can block any UN sanctions with its veto on the Security Council, has remained opposed to punishing the big Middle Eastern oil exporter.
Iran, which says uranium enrichment is part of its programme to generate electricity, not make nuclear bombs, said yesterday it would start making higher-grade reactor fuel today and add 10 uranium enrichment plants over the next year.
A spokeswoman for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed Tehran had notified the UN nuclear watchdog of its plan and said it would damage chances of saving a proposed atomic fuel supply deal between Iran and world powers.
Iran's government said it acted in frustration over Western powers' unwillingness to consider its requests for amendments to a UN draft plan to provide highly processed fuel material for a nuclear medicine reactor in Tehran.
Analysts said Iran would need a few months to reconfigure its Natanz plant to refine uranium to higher purity and that it lacked the technical means to build 10 more sites in the foreseeable future.
Tehran may also be having more difficulty obtaining crucial components due to UN sanctions, said the analysts, adding that the latest move might be a negotiating tactic.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner denounced Iran's move as blackmail to force a deal on Tehran's terms.
The battle now moves to the UN Security Council, where Western powers hope to lure China on board for sanctions on the Iranian Central Bank and other financial institutions, as well as companies controlled by the Revolutionary Guard.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said that the point of sanctions was to pressure Iran back to the negotiating table and warned of the consequences of failing to do so.
"We have to face the reality that if Iran continues and develops nuclear weapons it almost certainly will provoke nuclear proliferation in the Middle East," he said.
"This is a huge danger." (©The Times, London)