Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday that Iran’s assertion it has enriched uranium will require “strong steps” from the United Nations Security Council.
Rice said the announcement from Tehran was further proof it was not adhering to requirements already set out by the international community.
“I do think the Security Council will need to take into consideration this move by Iran,” Rice said at the State Department. She urged that when the council reconvenes it take “strong steps to make certain (to) maintain the credibility of the international community.”
Rice’s comments ratchets up earlier U.S. pressure, as well as that from Russia and the European Union, in condemning Iran’s assertion that it had enriched uranium in defiance of a U.N. demand, though Moscow said force could not resolve the dispute.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared on Tuesday that Iran had enriched uranium for the first time and would now press ahead with industrial-scale enrichment. His triumphant announcement keeps the Islamic Republic on a collision course with the United Nations and with Western countries convinced that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, not just fuel for power stations as it insists.
In a nationally televised ceremony, he said the country’s nuclear ambitions are peaceful and warning the West that trying to force Iran to abandon enrichment would “cause an everlasting hatred in the hearts of Iranians.”
Iran intends to move toward large-scale uranium enrichment involving 54,000 centrifuges, the country’s deputy nuclear chief said Wednesday, signaling its resolve to expand a program the international community has insisted it halt.
President Bush this week dismissed media reports of plans for strikes on Iran as “wild speculation” and said force might not be needed to curb its nuclear ambitions.
The Russian Foreign Ministry urged Tehran to stop all enrichment work, saying its proclaimed atomic advance ran counter to the decisions of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the U.N. Security Council. But a senior Iranian official ruled out any retreat.
“Iran’s nuclear activities are like a waterfall which has begun to flow. It cannot be stopped,” said the official, who asked not to be named, referring to the Russian demand.
Separately, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the use of force could not solve the stand-off over Iran’s nuclear program, but he did not reiterate Moscow’s past opposition to sanctions.
“If such plans exist they will not be able to solve this problem. On the contrary they could create a dangerous explosive blaze in the Middle East, where there are already enough blazes,” he was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei will visit Iran on Thursday to seek full Iranian cooperation with the Security Council and IAEA inquiries, a trip now clouded by Ahmadinejad’s speech.
The IAEA, whose inspectors are in Iran investigating nuclear sites, has given no comment on Iran’s statements.
But an agency diplomat said, “The timing was strange but it may have been intended by them to improve their bargaining position.”
The Security Council has told Iran to halt all sensitive atomic activities and on March 29 it asked the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, to report on its compliance in 30 days.
Rice also telephoned ElBaradei to ask him to reinforce demands that Iran comply with its nonproliferation requirements when he holds talks in Tehran on Friday.
“This is not a question of Iran’s right to civil nuclear power,” she said. “This is a question of ... the world does not believe that Iran should have the capability and the technology that could lead to a nuclear weapon.”
Rice did not call for an emergency meeting of the Council, saying it should consider action after receiving an IAEA report by April 28. She did not elaborate on what measures the United States would support, but economic and political sanctions are under consideration.
Three European states behind a deal to suspend enrichment which broke down last year weighed in with criticism of Iran. British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said the announcement was “deeply unhelpful” and undermined confidence.
His German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said Iran was “going in precisely the wrong direction” for a return to negotiations.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said it was a worrying step and Iran should stop its “dangerous activities.”
The European Union voiced dismay.
“This is regrettable,” said Emma Udwin, a spokeswoman for Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU commissioner for external relations.
Calls for Israel’s destruction
The Iranian president further stoked international anxieties about Iran’s nuclear program last year when he called for Israel’s destruction.
But Israelis responded cautiously to Iran’s latest announcement, saying diplomacy was the best route.
“The United States has placed this issue at the top of its agenda. I do not recommend that we should be involved,” Israeli elder statesman Shimon Peres told Israel Radio.
The United States has pledged to defend Israel, which bombed an Iraqi nuclear facility in 1981.
Israel’s military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, cautioned that it will take some time before Iran achieves nuclear capability. “I think things will change in this process and we shouldn’t see this as a foregone conclusion,” he told Army Radio.
The chief of military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, told the Yediot Ahronot newspaper that Iran could develop a nuclear weapon “within three years, by the end of the decade."
No U.S. confirmation of nukes
The U.S. State Department said it was unable to confirm that Iran had enriched uranium and some experts said even if Tehran’s assertions were accurate, it would still be years before the Islamic Republic was able to produce a nuclear weapon.
In his televised address, Ahmadinejad said, “I am officially announcing that Iran has joined the group of those countries which have nuclear technology.”
He also said Iran’s goal was industrial-scale enrichment.
The level of enrichment needed for nuclear bombs is far higher than the 3.5 percent Iran says it has reached. It would take Iran about two decades to yield enough highly enriched uranium for one bomb with its current cascade of 164 centrifuges.
But Tehran says it wants to install 3,000 centrifuges, enough to produce material for a warhead in a year.
Exiled Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi said in Strasbourg that the West had been too soft on Iran and had allowed the country “to get so close to a nuclear weapon.”
Information provided in 2002 by Rajavi’s National Council of Resistance of Iran, which wants to oust Iran’s clerical rulers, forced Tehran to lift the veil on its nuclear program.
The council’s armed wing, the People’s Mujahedeen, is listed as a terrorist group by the United States.