three days after the International Atomic Energy Agency told it to freeze all operations connected with uranium enrichment or face possible retaliation.
The announcement suggested a calculated effort to raise the stakes in the row about its nuclear programme ... The Guardian
Iran announced yesterday that it had resumed producing a uranium gas for enrichment as a nuclear fuel, three days after the International Atomic Energy Agency told it to freeze all operations connected with uranium enrichment or face possible retaliation.
The announcement suggested a calculated effort to raise the stakes in the row about its nuclear programme, paving the way for a dangerous confrontation in November when the IAEA board meets in Vienna to consider its response.
The head of the Iranian atomic energy authority, Gholamrezah Aghazadeh, said at the IAEA yesterday that the country had begun converting 37 tonnes of yellowcake crude uranium into uranium hexafluoride gas, which can be enriched to either fuel or weapons-grade uranium.
The IAEA's weekend resolution singled out the yellowcake conversion issue as worrying, asked Iran to suspend the operation, and demanded it freeze "all activities" connected with uranium enrichment, the central requirement for obtaining nuclear weapons.
The enrichment freeze is the main aim of the Americans and the EU, but Iran is adamant that it will not give up its enrichment programme, which has been developed mostly in secret over the past 20 years.
This summer, Iran told Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA director general, that it intended to convert 37 tonnes of yellowcake in "August/ September". Experts say that this could provide material for up to five nuclear warheads.
Iran did not begin the conversion process on the expected date, August 27, suggesting that it was awaiting the outcome of the Vienna meeting.
The Americans failed to persuade the board to take a hard line, including an ultimatum, a deadline, and automatic referral to the UN security council or sanctions if Iran did not do as it was asked.
Britain, Germany and France toned down the demands to a statement that the board would consider its next steps in November.
Iran's response yesterday is likely to harden the EU view. After two years of grappling with and negotiating on Iran's suspected nuclear weapons programme, there is a sense that time is running out.
Under its international treaty obligations Iran is allowed to have a uranium enrichment programme.
The IAEA cannot compel a freeze; it can only ask Tehran to suspend the programme "voluntarily".
It has done that repeatedly and Tehran has shifted back and forth, promising to freeze then reneging.
While Mr Aghazadeh made his announcement in Vienna, the Iranian president, Mohammed Khatami, was attending a military parade in Tehran
He said Iran would not be diverted from its nuclear programme, which he said was exclusively peaceful, even if that meant breaking its relations with the IAEA and ending the UN inspectors' scrutiny of the Iranian nuclear effort.
"We will continue along our path even if it leads to an end to international supervision," he said.