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Britain, France, Germany meet on Iran nuclear row

Both Britain and the US have warned that Iran was now likely to be referred to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.

india Updated: Jan 12, 2006 12:22 IST

The British, French and German foreign ministers were to discuss a response here on Thursday after Iran veered closer to United Nations action by pledging to continue sensitive nuclear research.

The three European Union countries have been seeking a negotiated solution for two years but both Britain and the United States have warned that Iran was now likely to be referred to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.

Iran broke the UN seals at its Natanz nuclear plant on Tuesday to resume research into uranium enrichment, prompting a furious reaction from world leaders who fear Tehran is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran insists its programme is only for civilian purposes.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Iran was now likely to be referred to the Security Council and there was also a strong reaction from the United States and the European Union.

Enriched uranium is used by some nuclear power stations but is also an essential element of atomic weapons.

In Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed not to be intimidated by the "fuss" and said he hoped atomic energy would soon "serve the progress" of the country.

"I am telling all the powers that the Iranian nation and government, with firmness and wisdom, will continue its path in seeking and utilising peaceful nuclear energy," he told supporters in the southern city of Bandar Abbas.

"In the path of nuclear energy, we have started (nuclear fuel) research and God willing, in the near future this energy in its entirety will serve the Iranian nation."

Former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, now head of Iran's top political arbitration body, was even more forthright.

"With wisdom we will get our rights, and if they create any trouble for us, they will regret it in the end and Iran will emerge triumphant," he said.

US Vice President Dick Cheney said referral to the Security Council would be the probable next step.

"What would be probably the number one item on the agenda would be (a UN) resolution that could be enforced by sanctions, were they to fail to comply with it," Cheney said in a US radio interview.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, "It is more likely than ever that we are headed to the Security Council on this question."

McCormack said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice conferred by phone with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and also with Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said he was "very concerned" over Iran's activity, but added that it was up to the IAEA to deal with the matter, according to spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

Annan was "very appreciative" of the efforts the so-called EU-3 and Russia to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis, Dujarric said, but felt that "at this point" the IAEA and the EU members "remain clearly in the lead in this situation".

Referral to the Security Council would normally pass through the IAEA.

Even Russia, a frequent ally of Iran, highlighted its concern at Iran's latest nuclear action.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the breaking of the seals a "cause for concern," while Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov said the move "personally disappoints me and gives some cause for alarm."

Rice spoke on Tuesday with Lavrov, whose country has offered to house Iranian uranium-enrichment activities on its own soil as a control and confidence-building measure.

US officials had privately made no secret of their scepticism over the EU's negotiating efforts, but now may be convinced that Washington's tactic of letting the talks run their course has borne fruit.

A Western diplomat in Vienna said there was talk of a special board meeting of IAEA governors in about two weeks.

US diplomats insist they have a majority of votes on the 35-member IAEA board to haul Iran before the Security Council, but it was unclear whether there was enough support for sanctions against Tehran.

The crisis has hit world energy markets. Oil prices continued higher in Asian trade Thursday with Iran's defiant stand sparking unease, dealers said.

At 11.47 am (03:47 GMT), New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in February, was up 50 cents to $64.44 a barrel from its close of $63.94 in the United States on Wednesday.

"The reason for the rise is the increase in the geo-political risk premium because of the situation in Iran," said Dariusz Kowalczyk, a senior investment strategist with CFC Seymour in Hong Kong.

First Published: Jan 12, 2006 12:22 IST