TEHRAN, Iran – Iran (search) on Sunday denounced as "illegal" demands from the U.N. atomic watchdog agency that it freeze all work on uranium enrichment — technology that can be used for nuclear weapons.
Hasan Rowhani (search), Iran's top nuclear negotiator, also said his country would limit its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (search) if the watchdog refers Iran to the U.N Security Council for possible sanctions.
Rowhani spoke a day after the agency's governing board demanded Iran freeze all work on uranium enrichment and said it would judge Tehran's compliance in two months.
"This demand is not legal and does not put any obligation on Iran. The IAEA board of governors has no right to make such a suspension obligatory for any country," he said at a news conference.
The Iranian official said his country would nonetheless continue with its voluntary suspension of what he described as "actual enrichment" — the injection of uranium gas into centrifuges.
But he indicated that related activities, such as production, assembly and testing of centrifuges, were likely to continue.
"We are committed to the suspension of actual enrichment but we have no decision to expand the suspension," he said.
Iran is not prohibited from enrichment under its obligations to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. But it has for months faced international pressure to suspend such activities as a good-faith gesture.
The United States insists the 35-member board must refer Iran to the Security Council when it meets again on Nov. 25 if Tehran doesn't comply. Iran rejects U.S. accusations it wants nuclear weapons, saying its activities are only in pursuit of energy.
"There is no justification to refer Iran's nuclear dossier to the Security Council," Rowhani said. "If one day they refer Iran's nuclear dossier to the U.N. Security Council, that day ... Iran will stop implementing the additional protocol and will limit its cooperation with the IAEA ...."
Iran has agreed to unfettered inspections of its nuclear facilities under an addition to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
The IAEA board unanimously approved a toughly worded resolution Saturday saying it "considers it necessary" that Iran suspend all uranium enrichment and related programs. It expressed alarm at Iranian plans to convert more than 40 tons of raw uranium into uranium hexafluoride — the gas that when spun in centrifuges turns into enriched uranium.
It also said the board "strongly urges" Iran to meet all demands by the agency in its investigation of the country's nearly two decades of clandestine nuclear activity, including unrestricted access to sites, information and personnel that can shed light on still-unanswered questions on whether Tehran was interested in the atom for nuclear weapons.
It called on the IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei to provide a review of the findings of the investigation of Iran's nuclear activities.
Suggesting that Iran could have to answer to the Security Council if it defies the demands, the resolution said the next board meeting in November "will decide whether or not further steps are appropriate" in ensuring Iran complies.
The last board resolution, in June, had been less insistent on the issue of suspension. Still, Saturday's text appeared to fall far short of what the Americans had wanted when the meeting opened Monday.
Washington had pushed to drop mention of countries' rights to peaceful nuclear technology and fought for an Oct. 31 deadline, with the understanding that if Iran failed to comply, the board would automatically begin deliberations on Security Council referral.
The phrasing accepted instead left it up to the board to debate what action — if any — to take when it reconvenes Nov. 25 if Iran is found to have ignored the demand to freeze enrichment or other conditions.
Approval of the resolution followed days of backdoor negotiations and resistance by nonaligned countries that saw their own right to enrichment for peaceful use threatened.