Defiant Iran Promises Resumption of Nuclear Fuel Enrichment

Iran ended voluntary cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency on Sunday and promised to resume its nuclear activities, a day after the agency’s board voted to report the country to the U.N. Security Council.

“In a letter to the [IAEA] we announced the date (for resuming enrichment) and the inspectors will come to Iran for it in the next few days,” Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, told reporters.

Though Larijani did not specify when enrichment would begin, European Union officials warned that such action could damage Iran’s case before the international community.

“There is still time to negotiate. But suspend sensitive nuclear activities,” French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told Iranian officials via France Inter radio, according to Reuters.

Angered by the prospect of possible sanctions and by what he sees as the international push to keep Iran from enriching uranium for peaceful civilian use, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has lashed out against his detractors challenging the United States and Europe.

“They (Western countries) are very angry with us, but it’s not important to us because they cannot do anything and we are not scared of anything,” he told Iran’s semi-official news agency Mehr, according to Reuters. “If they could do something against us, they would not have wasted time to prepare the stage.”

European diplomats have urged Iran to return to the negotiating table in the month before the IAEA is due to make a final report to the Security Council. The possibility still exists that a Russian proposal to enrich uranium on Russian soil and return it to Iran could create a breakthrough in the negotiations.

Although Iran has so far rejected the proposal, Larijani said Iran still is open to further negotiation.

“The door for negotiations is not closed … but they should know that this demand (to have nuclear technology) is not something that one can step away from,” he said.

On Monday, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan encouraged continued diplomacy.

“Both the Iranians and the other parties negotiating have indicated that this not the end of the road,” he said when asked about Iran’s proposed referral to the Security Council, according to Reuters.

American officials have taken a varied stance in their comments on Iran’s predicament following the IAEA vote on Saturday.

The undersecretaries for political affairs and arms control and international security, R. Nicholas Burns and Robert Joseph, told The New York Times a Security Council referral did not necessarily mean economic sanctions. The two said the United States may instead seek punitive action such as freezing officials’ assets and suspending travel, the Times reported.

And though President Bush has said the United States would not permit Iran to gain a nuclear weapon, he has stayed away from mention of military action.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, on the other hand, took a more hard-line approach over the weekend.

“There is only one thing worse than military action,” McCain said, according to a separate New York Times report, “and that is a nuclear-armed Iran.”

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