By ALI AKBAR DAREINI
TEHRAN - Iran Iran's conservative-dominated parliament is drafting a bill that would force the reformist government to resume uranium enrichment - a necessary step toward producing nuclear fuel or nuclear weapons - over the objections of the international community.
The legislation, if approved as expected, would deepen an international dispute as the U.N. nuclear watchdog tries to persuade Iran to limit, not expand, nuclear activities that Washington says are aimed at producing an atomic bomb.
Iran, which insists its nuclear program is peaceful and aimed at generating electricity, already has rejected a resolution of the International Atomic Energy Agency last month demanding Iran freeze all uranium enrichment activities by late November.
If Iran fails to meet the demand, the IAEA could refer the situation to the U.N. Security Council, which could impose sanctions. The IAEA will meet Nov. 25 to judge Iran's compliance.
But in Iran, the nuclear program is a matter of national pride. It is one of few issues where the conservative parliament and reformist government of President Mohammad Khatami see eye to eye.
Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh, who heads the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, addressed a closed meeting of parliament Monday to brief lawmakers on Iran's technical nuclear capabilities and the progress of its nuclear program, one lawmaker said.
The meeting of parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee took place as lawmakers are drafting the bill, committee member Hamid Reza Haji Babaei told The Associated Press. He refused to discuss details of the meeting.
Aghazadeh said last month that Iran has started converting raw uranium into hexaflouride gas, the feed stock for enrichment.
"The bill will require the government to resume actual uranium enrichment," he said. "One thing is definite: Iran will enrich uranium under any circumstances."
The measure would provide political cover to Khatami's government and reinforce the argument it has been making to the IAEA that more pressure on Iran will only strengthen the hand of the hard-liners.
Iran is not prohibited from enrichment under its obligations to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but faces growing international pressure to suspend such activities as a good-faith gesture.
Iran last year suspended actual uranium enrichment - injecting uranium gas into centrifuges. However, Tehran has rejected demands that it stop all other activities related to uranium enrichment, such as building centrifuges used to enrich uranium and converting raw uranium.
Senior conservative lawmaker Alaeddin Boroujerdi, a former deputy foreign minister and head of the committee, said an unprecedented 238 legislators already have signed a draft of the bill in a gesture of support for the expansion of Iran's nuclear activities.
Boroujerdi said his committee will discuss details of the bill Tuesday before putting it to a vote in the 290-seat chamber.
"We are unhappy with the Europeans for helping impose the IAEA resolution on us," he said. "Pressure won't make us give in to demands to stop uranium activities. On the contrary, it will only push us to adopt a tougher line."
Boroujerdi said Iran already has the technology to carry out all activities from mining uranium to enriching it and the world should recognize Iran as a member of the nuclear club rather than trying to isolate the nation.
Uranium enrichment is considered crucial because uranium enriched to a low level can be used as fuel to generate electricity, then enriched again to manufacture bombs.
Countries that can enrich uranium are generally assumed to be at the level of technology to make bombs.
"What does the world want to take from us? We have the technology and knowledge to master the fuel cycle. Is the world going to take our knowledge away from us?" Babaei asked. "That's impossible."