By Francois Murphy
VIENNA - Iran defied the United Nations on Tuesday by announcing it would go on converting a large amount of raw uranium to prepare it for enrichment, a process that can be used to develop atomic bombs.
Gholamreza Aghazadeh, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, told reporters Iran had begun converting 37 tons of raw "yellowcake" uranium to process it for use in nuclear centrifuges -- the machines that enrich uranium.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, unanimously adopted a resolution on Saturday calling on Iran to suspend all activities related to uranium enrichment. The United States, Russia and the European Union reinforced the message on Monday by urging Tehran to comply.
"Some of the amount of the 37 tons has been used. The tests have been successful but these tests have to be continued using the rest of the material," said Aghazadeh, one of Iran's vice presidents, who is attending a general conference of the Vienna-based IAEA.
One nuclear expert has said that once converted from yellowcake into uranium hexafluoride, the feed material for enrichment centrifuges, Iran would eventually be able to enrich enough uranium for up to five nuclear weapons.
Iran had told the IAEA a few weeks ago it intended to run what it described as tests of its uranium conversion facility. However, the announcement came after the IAEA board of governors passed the resolution on Saturday calling on Iran to halt all activities linked to uranium enrichment.
Iran had promised France, Britain and Germany last October it would freeze all activities related to uranium enrichment. But it angered the EU's "big three" by announcing earlier this year that the production of feed material for centrifuges would not be included in the freeze.
The resolution said the IAEA board would consider whether "further steps" would be necessary if Iran failed to implement the suspension -- which diplomats said would mean a referral to the U.N. Security Council and possibly economic sanctions.
The United States and some other nations believe Tehran intends to use fissile material for weapons. Iran denies that and says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.
Aghazadeh said Iran considered the IAEA resolution to be unjust and had no fear of economic sanctions.
"What was decided in the board of governors is unjust for a nation," he said through an interpreter. He said sanctions were not a serious concern for Tehran as it had lived with U.S. sanctions for 25 years.