TEHRAN, Iran – Iranian lawmakers instructed the government Sunday to develop a nuclear fuel cycle, which would include resuming the process of enriching uranium (search) — a prospect that has drawn criticism from the United States and Europe because it could be used in developing atomic weapons.
The vote came as a spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry said it was giving Europe a "last chance" in nuclear talks.
Iran suspended enrichment of uranium six months ago under international pressure led by the United States, which accuses Tehran (search) of trying to make nuclear weapons. Iran maintains its program is peaceful and only aimed at generating electricity.
The European Union has threatened to take Iran to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions if it again starts uranium reprocessing. Enriched uranium is useful in the generation of electricity, which is permitted under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (search), but it also can be turned into nuclear weapons.
The bill approved Sunday by 188 of the 205 deputies attending the parliamentary session doesn't force the government to immediately resume uranium enrichment but pressures it not to give up its nuclear program, including uranium enrichment.
The legislation was viewed as strengthening the government's hand in negotiations with European Union representatives, allowing it to demonstrate domestic pressure to pursue its nuclear program as talks have deadlocked.
"We are entering injury time," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters later in the day.
He said the government will give Europeans a "last chance" in negotiations to avert a nuclear crisis before it resumes uranium reprocessing activities.
"The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran is required to pursue, within the framework of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, peaceful use of nuclear energy, including the cycle of nuclear fuel," said the legislation, adopted in a session broadcast live on state-run Tehran radio.
The Guardian Council, a hard-line body vetting legislation, is widely expected to approve the legislation, making it law.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said last week that he would support referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council if it breaches its nuclear obligations.
France, Britain and Germany, acting on behalf of the 25-nation European Union, want Tehran to abandon its enrichment activities in exchange for economic aid, technical support and backing for Iran's efforts to join the World Trade Organization.
Iran suspended uranium-enrichment activities as a gesture of good faith in November. Tehran says it won't give up its right under the treaty to such activities but is prepared to offer guarantees that its nuclear program won't be diverted toward weapons.
Later Sunday, Iran's top nuclear negotiator Hasan Rowhani said Iran would resume its nuclear activities if no agreement is reached.
"We have always preferred to resume work under an agreement but if we don't reach agreement, we will implement our decision and will definitely restart our activities," he told state-run television.