updated 9/8/2004 6:09:59 PM ET 2004-09-08T22:09:59

Iran risks action by the U.N. Security Council if it breaks a promise to suspend uranium enrichment activity by November, Britain said Wednesday. Tehran defiantly declared that it had a right to continue its program.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany, which has joined Britain and France in putting diplomatic pressure on Iran, said in a legislative speech that “this conflict [with Iran] is highly alarming.”

Iran, under international pressure, agreed last year to suspend uranium enrichment, but it has since resumed testing, assembling and making centrifuges used in the process.

Iran said Wednesday it was talking to European Union countries about freezing some nuclear activities, but it said it would not give up its plan to control the fuel cycle — from mining uranium to enriching it.

U.S. officials have taken the hardest line, urging the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which meets Monday in Vienna, Austria, to declare Iran in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Such a move could force the U.N. Security Council to take action.

‘Legitimate and basic right’
Iran responded defiantly Wednesday.

The nation “considers controlling the nuclear fuel cycle its legitimate and basic right,” Hasan Rowhani, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, said in Tehran.

Highly enriched uranium can be used to make nuclear warheads. Iran says it is interested only in nuclear power generation, which can be done with lower levels of enrichment.

Diplomats in Vienna said Tuesday that Iran had tentatively agreed to reimpose a freeze on making, testing and assembling centrifuges used to enrich uranium.

At a briefing in London, a senior British official said Iran must meet those commitments by November or risk being referred to the Security Council for action.

“At some point, you have got to decide whether negotiating further makes sense or whether you need to do something else,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Britain, France and Germany have spearheaded efforts to find a solution with Iran through diplomacy.

Agreement to give access
In October, the three countries persuaded Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment and give inspectors unrestricted access to its nuclear facilities.

In June, however, Britain helped draft an IAEA resolution deploring Iran’s lack of cooperation. Iran confirmed in July that it had resumed building nuclear centrifuges.

Enrichment does not fall under treaty obligations. But Tehran has been under international pressure for more than a year to fully renounce enrichment, to counterbalance suspicions generated by nearly two decades of clandestine nuclear activities that came to light two years ago.

Experts estimate that the 40 tons of uranium Iran said it would convert would yield more than 200 pounds of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium — hypothetically enough to make five crude nuclear weapons.

Rowhani, who returned Wednesday morning from a European visit, said Iran was prepared to deal with any decision the IAEA board may make when it meets Monday.

“Whenever Iran gets practically close to enrichment issues, the sensitivity of the Europeans rises, and whenever we practically distance ourselves from enrichment, their tone changes and you see a smile on their faces,” Rowhani said.

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