US pushes for crisis vote on Iran's nuclear program

By Philip Sherwell, Washington
January 9, 2006

AMERICA is to push for a crisis vote to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council if Tehran goes ahead with its threat to resume banned research on uranium enrichment-related operations today.

Support is growing in European capitals for the United States to play "tough cop" to Iran, which has consistently shown disdain for diplomatic efforts to solve the stalemate.

The Bush Administration is so furious with Iran that it is preparing to push for the scheduled March board meeting of the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to be brought forward.

The US wants a vote referring Iran to the Security Council for sanctions.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice believes sufficient support can be mustered on the agency's 35-nation board to bring Iran before the Security Council for possible censure.

Senior European officials are less sure about the numbers, but sympathise with the American strategy.

"Europe hasn't made up its mind, but it would look pretty weak to wait another two months while the Iranians continue to undermine the suspension on the program," a senior European diplomat said.

UN inspectors arrived in Iran at the weekend to supervise Tehran's resumption of nuclear fuel research, according to a senior Iranian official.

Iran deepened the crisis last week when it declared that it would restart atomic fuel research shelved in 2004 under a deal with European negotiators. Its officials then failed to attend a scheduled meeting with IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei to explain their plans.

Tehran has reneged on a series of accords with the EU since the election of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran insists that its atomic program is for civilian power purposes, but Western intelligence has evidence that the Islamic regime is trying to develop a nuclear bomb.

Stalled talks between Iran and the EU were due to begin again in Vienna next week, but they seem certain to be abandoned if Iranian experts resume work on research and development projects.

It is unclear what the fuel research would entail — whether it would just be basic equipment tests or involve small amounts of uranium being enriched in a laboratory.

Britain, France and Germany want Iran to allow Moscow to produce its nuclear fuel to ensure it is processed only to the low grade needed for power stations.

Iran insists it needs enriched uranium for generating electricity and says it has every right to produce its own nuclear fuel from the uranium it mines in its central deserts.

Iran insists the fuel needed for its nuclear power station at the southern port of Bushehr must be produced domestically.