TEHRAN, Iran – TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran on Wednesday dismissed as "illegitimate" a draft U.N. Security Council resolution seeking to impose harsher sanctions against Tehran for its refusal to halt uranium enrichment.
Mojtaba Hashemi Samareh, a top adviser to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said the draft proposed by the U.S. was a reactionary response to a deal in which Iran agreed to ship much of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey.
The surprise deal, brokered by Turkey and Brazil Monday, didn't ease concerns in the West that Iran's nuclear program has military dimensions primarily because Tehran has said it will continue to enrich uranium to higher levels.
Uranium enriched to a low level is used for nuclear fuel, but if processed to much higher levels it can be fashioned into a weapon.
"The draft resolution being discussed at Security Council has no legitimacy at all," the official IRNA news agency quoted Samareh as saying Wednesday after a Cabinet meeting.
The deal would deprive Iran — at least temporarily — of some of the stocks of enriched uranium that it would need to process further to create a weapon, if that were its intention. Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful.
But — because seven months have elapsed since the agreement was originally floated and Iran continues to enrich — it would still have enough material to make such a weapon even if Tehran shipped out the original amount stipulated by the U.N.
The material would be returned to Iran in the form of fuel rods, which cannot be processed further. Iran needs the fuel rods to power an aging medical research reactor in Tehran that produces isotopes for cancer treatment.
But to the U.S. and its allies the deal is too little now too late.
The six powers that have been trying to get Iran back to the negotiating table over its nuclear program — the U.S. Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — had backed a similar uranium swap deal in October proposed by the U.N. nuclear agency as a confidence-building measure. It called for sending the low-enriched uranium to Russia and France to be turned into fuel rods.
The U.S., British and French ambassadors to the United Nations stressed that the sanctions resolution circulated Tuesday was a response to Iran's refusal to suspend uranium enrichment and plans to build 10 new nuclear facilities — not a response to the Iran-Turkey-Brazil deal.
In contrast to that deal which was negotiated very recently, the United States first circulated a new sanctions proposal to the five other powers tackling the Iran issue in February, and the six parties have been engaged in intense negotiations for the past six weeks.
A senior diplomat at U.N. headquarters familiar with the negotiations said ambassadors from the six countries reached agreement on the text on Friday and their capitals signed off on it over the weekend, which is why the draft resolution was circulated on Tuesday.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice stressed that the draft resolution and the uranium swap deal have nothing to do with each other and told reporters that Iran's decision to continue enriching uranium to 20 percent intensifies its violation of sanctions and "eliminates any confidence-building potential."
The senior U.N. diplomat raised a number of questions about the Iran-Turkey-Brazil agreement, noting that in its first paragraph it says that Iran has the right to enrich nuclear material, which is not explicitly authorized under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and is banned under previous U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The agreement also does not state where the 1,200 kilograms of high-enriched uranium to be shipped to Iran will come from and who will pay for it, the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Nonetheless, the diplomat said, the deal does have some value, especially if it can spark new engagement with Iran.
The United States and its Western allies won crucial support from Russia and China for new sanctions against Iran but face tough opposition from non-permanent U.N. Security Council members Turkey, Brazil and Lebanon.
Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi, who is also the head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said world powers would discredit themselves if they passed new sanctions.
"By issuing resolution, they would further discredit themselves in the public opinion," he said on state TV. "Discussions of imposing sanctions has faded away and this is a last effort by the Western countries."
But Rice said Tuesday that adopting the resolution would "increase the cost to Iran's leadership" of defying the international community and hopefully persuade the government that it's in their interest to peacefully resolve concerns about the country's nuclear program.
Associated Press Writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations.