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Iran 'stepping up uranium work'

From CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott



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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As the international community prepares to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council over its nuclear program later this week, Tehran has stepped up its preparations to enrich uranium, a senior U.S. State Department official said Tuesday.

The official, briefing reporters on Tuesday's recommendation by the five permanent members of the Security Council for it to consider the issue of Iran's nuclear program, said time was of the essence in dealing with Iran's growing nuclear capability.

But the official also said the United States and its partners were committed to finding a diplomatic solution.

Since breaking International Atomic Energy Agency seals at its nuclear facilities last month, Iranian nuclear activity has been "pretty consistent," with Tehran moving equipment to its nuclear facility at Natanz in preparation for enriching uranium -- activity the U.S. believes could be aimed at producing fissile material for a nuclear bomb.

The official cautioned, however, there was no timeline as to when Iran would have enough of that material to build one.

"I don't think we have time to play games in the Security Council, but we do have time to allow the Security Council to make clear to Iran there will be consequences, and impose consequences if necessary," the official said.

Tuesday's recommendation by the permanent members of the Security Council, along with Germany and the European Union, comes before the IAEA board as it meets on Thursday in Vienna, Austria to discuss Iran's nuclear program.

The five permanent Security Council members are the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.

A statement issued Tuesday after a meeting of the countries in London on Monday "called on Iran to restore in full the suspension of enrichment-related activity" and reiterated its resolve for a "diplomatic solution to the Iran problem."

The statement said the IAEA board "should report to the Security Council its decision on the steps required from Iran, and should also report to the Security Council all IAEA reports and resolutions as adopted relating to this issue."

It also said the Security Council should wait "before deciding to take action to reinforce the authority of the IAEA process" until the IAEA board meets in March and hears a report from Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei on Iran's nuclear program.

The United States had wanted an immediate referral, but agreed to wait until after the March IAEA board meeting as a compromise with Russia and to allow for more diplomacy before the Security Council takes up the issue.

"Iran sees this is going to the Council but will have some time to do the right thing," the senior State Department official said.

But, he said, that was not believed to mean a re-suspension of its nuclear activities, the reapplication of IAEA seals to its equipment and the resumption of serious negotiations with Britain, France and Germany -- the so-called EU-3 -- and Russia.

"We haven't gotten any sense they are ready to do that," the official, adding the Iranians have "shattered any basis" for further negotiations by their actions.

On Tuesday Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, warned Iran's referral to the Council would be "the end of the road for diplomacy and this is not a positive step." (Full story)

The State Department official said there would be a clear majority of members of the IAEA Board of Governors who would vote to refer the Security Council at this week's meeting.

The official said that Russia and China, initially reluctant to send the matter to the Security Council, finally signed on because of the "agreement we need to send a strong and unified message" to Iran and of a growing concern about Iran's nuclear capability.

"It's invaluable getting Russia and China on board," the official said. "The Iranians were very surprised by the unity of the P5. I think this is clearly going to get their attention."

The official said the United States and its partners would continue efforts to find a diplomatic solution but added, "it's time to take diplomacy to the next level."

The hope is that the weight of Security Council involvement will "support and strengthen" the hand of the IAEA to secure more cooperation from Iran and more access for its inspectors in the country.

The official said Iran's decision to break the IAEA seals "moves the timeline forward" in terms of how quickly Iran could build a nuclear weapon.

But swift action against Iran at the United Nations to curtail Tehran's nuclear activity, such as imposing sanctions, was unlikely and "premature," the official said.

Instead, he said, the Security Council was expected to take a "graduated approach," in which it calls on Iran to resume cooperation with the IAEA and halt all nuclear activity before it considers tougher measures.

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