Reuters: Russia and Europe joined the United States on Wednesday in condemning Iran’s assertion that it had enriched uranium in defiance of a U.N. demand, but Moscow said force could not resolve the dispute. By Parisa Hafezi
TEHRAN (Reuters) – Russia and Europe joined the United States on Wednesday in condemning Iran’s assertion that it had enriched uranium in defiance of a U.N. demand, but Moscow said force could not resolve the dispute.
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.
The United States said that if Iran continued moving in the “wrong direction” it would discuss future steps with the U.N. Security Council, which can impose punitive measures.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the use of force could not solve the stand-off over Iran’s nuclear programme, 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.
U.S. President George W. 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 (IAEA) 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.
European states also voiced concern at Ahmadinejad’s statement that Iran has joined the nuclear technology club.
Germany, one of three European states behind a deal to suspend enrichment that broke down last year, expressed “great concern” and said Tehran was heading towards self-isolation.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said it was worrying and Tehran 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.
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.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei is due to visit Iran on Thursday to seek full Iranian cooperation with the council and IAEA inquiries, a trip now clouded by Ahmadinejad’s speech.
The Iranian president stoked international anxieties about Iran’s nuclear programme last year when he called for Israel’s destruction. But Israelis responded cautiously to Iran’s latest announcement, saying diplomacy was the best course.
“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.
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 a well-flagged televised address, Ahmadinejad had 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 the West had been too soft on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“The policy of complaisance followed for years by the Western countries has permitted this country to get so close to a nuclear weapon,” she told reporters in Strasbourg.
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 programme.
The council’s armed wing, the People’s Mujahideen, is listed as a terrorist group by the United States.
(Additional reporting by Oliver Bullough in Moscow, Carol Giacomo and Tabbassum Zakaria in Washington and Luke Baker in Jerusalem)