VIENNA — Iran pressed ahead Monday with plans that will increase its ability to make nuclear weapons as it formally informed the U.N. nuclear agency of its intention to enrich uranium to higher levels.
It maintains its nuclear activities are peaceful, and an envoy insisted the move was meant only to provide fuel for Tehran's research reactor. But world powers fearing that Iran's enrichment program might be a cover for a weapons program were critical.
Britain said the Islamic Republic's reason for further enrichment made no sense because it is not technically advanced enough to turn the resulting material into the fuel rods needed for the reactor. France and the United States said the latest Iranian move left no choice but to push harder for a fourth set of U.N. Security Council sanctions to punish Iran's nuclear defiance.
Even a senior parliamentarian from Russia, which traditionally opposes Western ambitions for new U.N. sanctions, suggested the time had now come for such additional punishment. Konstantin Kosachev, head of the international affairs committee of the State Duma — the lower house of parliament — told the Interfax news agency that the international community should "react to this step with serious measures, including making the regime of economic sanctions more severe."
Telling the Associated Press that his country had formally told the International Atomic Energy Agency of its intentions, Iranian envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh said that IAEA inspectors now overseeing enrichment to low levels would be able to stay on site to monitor the process. He suggested world powers had pushed Iran into the decision.
The IAEA confirmed receiving formal notification in a restricted note to the agency's 35-nation board made available to the Associated Press.