VIENNA — Going against international will, Iran insisted here Thursday that it would not cease or suspend uranium enrichment, increasing the probability of a United Nations Security Council showdown over harsher sanctions against the Islamic nation.
Speaking during a break in a meeting of the 35-member board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Iranian ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh said that not only would Iran not halt uranium enrichment, but that the continuing call for such action was out of line.
Soltanieh's comments came after the IAEA's director general, Mohamed Elbaradei, told the board of governors that while Iran recently had cooperated by answering many questions, it hadn't done enough to reassure inspectors that it had told them everything about the program, which Iran had kept secret, illegally, for much of the program's 20-year history.
Elbaradei said that his agency was confident that Iran wasn't diverting known nuclear materials to a weapons program. But he said inspectors hadn't been able to determine with certainty that Iran had declared all its nuclear materials and activities.
He said more thorough inspections and a suspension of uranium enrichment were critical to establishing Iranian credibility.
"We are unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities," Elbaradei said. "This is especially crucial in the case of Iran, because of its history of undeclared activities."
The meeting of the board of governors was the first public discussion of an IAEA report that had been made public earlier this month into Iran's nuclear weapons program. That report detailed how the program began and where Iran had obtained the centrifuges needed to enrich uranium.
Soltanieh, in comments to reporters, said the IAEA study proved that Iran was cooperating with the international community and that its nuclear program was purely peaceful. He said Iran's cooperation in preparing the report made further discussions of sanctions or suspending enrichment unnecessary.
"Suspension now is out of context," he said. "There is no merit to talking about it."
But the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, Gregory L. Schulte, said consideration of additional sanctions was all but certain unless Iran agreed to more detailed inspections and to halt enrichment. He said he believed that sanctions are necessary, though both Russia and China, each with a veto in the Security Council, recently have questioned the wisdom of further sanctions.
"This is not a positive report," Schulte said of the IAEA report.
Other nations also seemed to be leaning for action against Iran. A joint statement by France, Germany and the United Kingdom called for a "time limit, a couple weeks" for Iran to suspend enrichment, and South Africa, long one of the world's strongest defenders of a nations right to enrich uranium, called on Iran to make more details of its program public in an effort to build confidence.
"The agency must be able to provide assurances regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran," South African IAEA representative Abdul Samad Minty told the board meeting.
Iran officially will address the board of governors on Friday.