TEHRAN,(Reuters) – Iran again threatened on Wednesday to start full-scale uranium enrichment if reported to the U.N. Security Council, while signalling interest in a Russian proposal aimed at calming its nuclear row with the West.
The council’s five veto-wielding permanent members plus Germany plan to meet in London on Monday to try to resolve differences over whether to send Iran to the council at a crisis meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog on Feb. 2, diplomats said.
They said foreign ministers of Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany would seek a consensus before the 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) gathers in Vienna to weigh what to do about Iran.
A spokesman for Britain’s Foreign Office said the ministers would be in London anyway for a major conference on Afghanistan and would “probably get together to discuss Iran”.
The United States and its European Union allies say it is time for the IAEA to report Iran to the Security Council over its nuclear programme. China and Russia have urged caution.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told a news conference his country would promptly halt snap IAEA inspections of its nuclear sites if it was referred to the council.
“Should Iran’s case be sent to the Security Council, Iran will immediately end its voluntary measures with the agency,” he said, adding he doubted the IAEA or European Union negotiators wanted to move towards “an uncontrollable situation”.
Iran allows the U.N. nuclear watchdog to make snap checks on its atomic facilities, but is not obliged to do so under its nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations.
“Iran hope the EU3 will avoid taking any wrong steps which could complicate the situation,” Mottaki said, referring to Britain, France and Germany, which broke off EU talks with Iran this month when Tehran said it was resuming nuclear fuel research and removed U.N. seals on uranium-enrichment equipment.
Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said after talks in Moscow he was “positive” about the idea of setting up a joint venture with Russia to enrich uranium on Russian soil.
“This plan can be perfected in the course of our talks coming up in February,” local agencies quoted him as saying.
The proposal is designed to prevent Iran gaining technology that could be used for military purposes. The Iranians have said they are ready to discuss co-production of atomic fuel, but that they retain the right to enrich uranium at home.
Larijani also warned that Iran would begin industrial-scale enrichment if the IAEA sent it to the Security Council, saying: “In those conditions, our activities will not be limited to scientific research. Then we will start industrial production.”
Iran is not known to have industrial-scale enrichment capacity. It does have a pilot enrichment plant at Natanz but analysts say it could take Iran considerable time to perfect technology needed for industrial production of nuclear fuel.
Mottaki said there was no way Iran would suspend its atomic fuel research programme — a step the EU trio has made a condition for any renewal of talks that began in 2003.
“Research is different from fuel production and cannot be suspended,” the foreign minister declared.
Russia and China are reluctant to see Iran hauled before the Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions, and do not back a draft EU resolution asking the IAEA for referral.
An EU diplomat said Moscow wanted the IAEA only to “inform” the council about Iran, which would allow the top world body to debate the issue, but nothing more. He said China had told the EU it had its own proposal, but had not submitted it in writing.
Officials of the six powers failed to agree what action the U.N. agency should take on Iran at a Jan. 16 meeting in London.
The West suspects a secret nuclear arms programme is under way in Iran, which hid atomic research work from the IAEA for almost 20 years until it was exposed by Iranian exiles in 2002.
Iran says it only wants nuclear power for civilian use.
IAEA safeguards investigators led by deputy agency director general Olli Heinonen flew to Tehran on Tuesday to try to get Iran to reveal more about its past nuclear activities.
Diplomats close to the IAEA said Heinonen’s team would press for access to the Lavisan military site that was razed before inspectors could reach it to test for radiation.
The inspectors also want details on Iran’s nuclear black-market activity and on a document given by Iran to IAEA investigators that diplomats said described how to build the core of an atomic bomb.