TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran has ended all voluntary cooperation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, saying it would start uranium enrichment and bar surprise inspections of its facilities after being reported to the Security Council over fears it is seeking an atomic bomb.
However, the Islamic republic left the door open for further negotiations over its nuclear program and, in an apparent softening of its position Sunday, said it was willing to discuss Moscow’s proposal to shift large-scale enrichment operations to Russian territory in an effort to allay suspicions.
A day earlier, an Iranian official at the International Atomic Energy gency meeting in Vienna, Austria, said that proposal was “dead.” The comment was made after the IAEA’s 35-nation board of governors voted to report Iran to the council, which has the power to impose economic and political sanctions.
“The door for negotiations is still open,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said Sunday.
But President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the West “can’t do a thing” to stop Iran’s progress.
“The era of coercion and domination has ended,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the official Islamic Republic News Agency. “Issue as many resolutions like this as you want and make yourself happy. You can’t prevent the progress of the Iranian nation.
“In the name of the IAEA they want to visit all our nuclear facilities and learn our defense capabilities, but we won’t allow them to do this.”
Uranium enriched to a low degree can be used for nuclear reactors, while highly enriched uranium is suitable for warheads. Iran insists it only wants to generate electricity, but the United States and some of its allies contend Tehran is trying to build a weapon.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Sunday that Iran had ended all voluntary cooperation with the IAEA. The action, ordered by Ahmadinejad, was required by a law passed last year.
The announcement means Iran has resumed uranium enrichment and no longer will allow snap IAEA inspections of its nuclear facilities, a voluntary measure it allowed in recent years in a goodwill gesture to build trust under a protocol to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
“We do not have any obligation toward the additional protocol(anymore),” Mottaki said.
Iran repeatedly has stressed it would continue to honor its commitments under the treaty but that it has the right to pursue a peaceful nuclear program.
“Adoption of the policy of resistance doesn’t mean we are on non-speaking terms or noncooperative,” Mottaki said. “Yesterday we had two options. One was the option of resistance and the other was surrender. We chose resistance.”
“Our activities will continue within the NPT (and not beyond that),” he told a press conference. “We have withdrawn only the possibility of voluntary cooperation from them (IAEA and the West).”
Mottaki said the IAEA resolution was “the result of a political will based on U.S. hostility” toward Iran. He said Iran would defend its right to possess nuclear technology and enrich uranium to produce nuclear fuel.
“We will continue this path,” he told reporters. The IAEA resolution requests the agency’s Director General Mohamed ElBaradei to “report to the Security Council” with the steps Iran needs to take to dispel suspicions about its nuclear ambitions.
These include that it return to freezing uranium enrichment; consider stopping construction of a heavy-water reactor that could be the source of plutonium; formally ratify the agreement allowing the IAEA greater inspecting authority; and give the agency more power in its investigation of Iran’s nuclear program. Tensions were likely to rise as Iran rejects pressure from the outside. It started escalating last month after Iran removed U.N. seals and began nuclear research, including small-scale uranium enrichment.
That came after months of futile talks between Iran and Britain, Germany and France, which negotiated on behalf of the 25-nation European Union.
Asefi said Iranian diplomats still will attend Feb. 16 talks in Moscow concerning Russia’s enrichment proposal. “The proposal has to conform itself with the new circumstances,” Asefi said Sunday. “If the Russian proposal makes itself compatible with the new conditions, it can be negotiated.”