lift the first stage of our suspension, which is that of our UCF (Uranium Conversion Facility) project in Isfahan, in the next few days," Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, told a university conference, the official IRNA news agency reported. Reuters
By Paul Hughes
TEHRAN - Iran said on Monday it would resume uranium enrichment-related activities within days, a move the United States and the European Union have warned would see its nuclear case escalated to the U.N. Security Council.
"We will lift the first stage of our suspension, which is that of our UCF (Uranium Conversion Facility) project in Isfahan, in the next few days," Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, told a university conference, the official IRNA news agency reported.
The Isfahan plant is used to convert raw uranium into a gas that can be fed into enrichment centrifuges for purification into fuel that can be used in nuclear power reactors or, if purified further, into bomb-grade material.
Iran strongly denies U.S. accusations it is trying to build atomic weapons and says its nuclear facilities will only be used as part of a civilian energy program.
Iran suspended nuclear fuel production in November as a trust-building measure while it tried to negotiate an agreement on the future of its nuclear activities with Britain, France and Germany who are leading the talks on behalf of the EU.
But Tehran officials said after talks with the EU trio in London last month it felt the negotiations were being dragged out and that it would resume some enrichment-related work.
EU and U.S. officials have said that would see Iran's case sent to the Security Council where Washington is likely to push its argument that Iran's nuclear program must be halted.
"BALL IN IRAN'S COURT"
"Iran is fully aware of the implications if they were to start any part of the nuclear fuel cycle," said a British official in London.
An EU diplomat said a resumption of work at the Isfahan plant "will lead to a problem with the negotiations. And if the talks fail, the EU3 will support a referral to the Security Council. The ball is in Iran's court."
"Negotiations are continuing and the threats are not new, but we have to wait to see if Iran acts," he added.
The State Department said that if Iran broke its agreement with the EU, it would not go unpunished.
"Violation of that agreement with the EU3 and a violation of their pledge would have consequences," State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters in Washington. "We'd have to look very carefully at what the next (step) would be."
Saeedi said Tehran wanted to continue the negotiations but would resume uranium enrichment itself if the EU failed to heed Iran's proposals on a long-term solution to the nuclear standoff.
Diplomats say Iran wants to be allowed to resume its enrichment project in phases, starting with a facility containing 3,000 centrifuges which arms experts say could yield enough material for one and a half atomic bombs a year.
"There is no justification now to continue the suspension, but to show our goodwill we are not resuming our activities all of a sudden," Saeedi said.
"If the Europeans in the next stages of negotiations do not pay attention to our proposals, we will resume uranium enrichment as well," he added.
The U.N.'s atomic watchdog reported earlier this year that Iran had finished converting at Isfahan 37 tonnes of raw uranium known as yellow cake into a uranium tetrafluoride, a precursor of the gas that would be fed into centrifuges for enrichment.