TEHRAN – Iran struck back Tuesday at the Big Five powers' decision to refer Iran's nuclear file to the U.N. Security Council, saying the move would mean the end of diplomacy over its atomic program.
Still, in what appeared to be an attempt to show it was cooperating with the West, Iran handed over documents last week to the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency on casting uranium into the shape of a warhead, diplomats in Vienna, Austria, said.
At a London meeting that lasted into the early hours of Tuesday, envoys of Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States decided they would recommend Thursday that the International Atomic Energy Agency should report Iran to the Security Council. They also decided the Security Council should wait until the IAEA issues a report on Iran in March before tackling the issue.
Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, reproached Europe for the London decision and repeated that Tehran will resume suspended nuclear activities and bar surprise U.N. inspections of facilities if it is referred to the Security Council.
"In case of referral ..., we have to stop all nuclear work that has been voluntarily suspended and stop implementation of the Additional Protocol," Larijani told reporters.
Uranium enrichment is the chief activity that Iran has suspended, but Larijani stopped short of specifying a resumption of enrichment.
Under the protocols, Iran agreed to allow IAEA inspectors to carry out surprise inspections of its nuclear sites with as little as two hours' notice. The deal also lets them inspect sites Iran has not officially declared as nuclear facilities — such as the Parchin military base outside of Tehran that inspectors visited in October, suspecting that nuclear activity was taking place there.
Iran's parliament passed a law last year requiring the government to block intrusive inspections of Iran's facilities if the IAEA refers the Iranian program to the Security Council.
The law also requires Iran to resume all nuclear activities it had stopped voluntarily, foremost among them enriching uranium.
Iran insists it has the right as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to build nuclear power stations and produce fuel by enriching its own uranium. But the United States and Europe suspect Iran aims to use enrichment to produce nuclear weapons, an accusation Iran denies.
Earlier, state television reported that Larijani said referral to the Security Council will be "unconstructive and the end of diplomacy."
"Europeans should pay more attention. Iran has called for dialogue and is moving in the direction of reaching an agreement through peaceful means," he said. "The Islamic Republic of Iran doesn't welcome this. We still think that this issue can be resolved peacefully. We recommend them not to do it."
But French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said the international community could reverse course if Tehran cooperates. "For us, the diplomatic path is not closed," Mattei said.
Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh, who also runs Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said there was no "legal justification to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council," according to the semiofficial Iranian Students News Agency.
In Vienna, Iran's oil minister said the nuclear issue would not affect Iranian oil policy.
"We have no reason to stop our exports" because of the nuclear issue, Oil Minister Kazem Vaziri Hamaneh said before Tuesday's meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, where members agreed to hold crude-oil production steady at 28 million barrels a day. "From our point of view there's no link between the two."
British, French and German representatives met Larijani's deputy, Javad Vaedi, in Brussels on Tuesday for talks on the dispute but failed to make any progress.
The decision by Russia and China to vote for referral surprised observers as they have consistently counseled caution on Iran's nuclear file. Both have major economic ties with Iran.
In an apparent attempt to reassure Tehran, Russia underlined that referral to the Security Council will not mean immediate action.
"The Security Council will not make any decisions," Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.
Russian and Chinese diplomats will head to Tehran shortly to explain the agreement reached in London and urge Iran to meet IAEA demands, he said, according to the RIA-Novosti news agency.
Moscow is trying to prevent the referral from scuttling negotiations that it hopes will persuade Iran to accept a compromise proposal — that Iranian uranium enrichment take place on Russian territory.
Diplomats in Vienna said that IAEA inspectors in Iran had received last week 1 1/2 pages that describe how to cast fissile uranium into the hemispherical shape of warheads. The document, which Iran acquired on the nuclear black market, was apparently handed over to allay suspicions ahead of Thursday's meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation board.
At the same time, the U.N. agency presented Iran with intelligence — provided by the United States — that suggests Tehran has been working on nuclear weapons, and asked for its response, said the diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was confidential.
Iran broke IAEA seals at a uranium enrichment plant Jan. 10 and resumed small-scale enrichment. That prompted Britain, France and Germany, who had been negotiating with Iran, to press for referral to the Security Council.
While the IAEA has said it has found no evidence of Iran's building nuclear weapons, it has refused to give Iran a clean bill of health because of unanswered questions over its atomic program.
Late last year, inspectors saw the document that apparently showed how to mold highly enriched grade uranium into the core of warheads, and it figured in a November report by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei.
Initial reports said the IAEA was given the documents at that time but the diplomats said Friday that Tehran handed them over only last week in a show of cooperation meant to head off increasing international consensus on reporting Iran to the Security Council over suspicions that its nuclear activities might be a cover for developing weapons.
The document was given to Iran by members of the nuclear black market network, the IAEA said. It showed how to cast "enriched, natural and depleted uranium metal into hemispherical forms."
Iran has claimed it did not ask for the document but was given it anyway as part of other black market purchases.
Meanwhile, Belgium's intelligence chief has resigned after it emerged that warnings from the CIA went unheeded and that the country's state security agency failed to stop a Belgian company exporting nuclear-sensitive equipment to Iran.
A Belgian parliamentary committee revealed the Iranian export Tuesday, the day after the head of the country's state security agency, Koen Dassen, quit over accusations the agency failed to inform the government about the CIA's warnings.
The EPSI company has exported to Iran a high-pressure vessel which can give specialized materials more strength, elasticity and resistance to fatigue. Those materials can then be used in nuclear applications.
EPSI vice president Pierre Colman, however, said the version of the high-pressure vessel exported to Iran did not contravene international treaties.