The international community on Tuesday expressed deep concern over Iran's resumption of research on uranium enrichment, and called on Tehran to solve the nuclear issue through negotiations
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The international community on Tuesday expressed deep concern over Iran's resumption of research on uranium enrichment, and called on Tehran to solve the nuclear issue through negotiations.
Earlier in the day, a top Iranian nuclear official said his country removed seals at its nuclear research sites and resumed fuel research activities.
Mohammad Saeedi, deputy chief of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told reporters in Tehran that the nuclear fuel facilities were unsealed and activities there were resumed under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog.
To dilute the sensitivity of the hardline move, Saeedi reiterated Iran's position that the research work should not be viewed as related to the actual production, promising to keep suspension on uranium enrichment.
"We think nuclear fuel research is different from the production. Our nuclear fuel production will be continuously suspended," he stressed.
Tehran's announcement of its resumption of nuclear research activities immediately drew concern from the international community.
In Vienna, IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei told the IAEA board that Iran had told the agency it would carry out limited uranium enrichment at its underground Natanz plant, where it broke UN seals as IAEA inspectors watched.
"Iran plans to install a small-scale gas ultracentrifuge cascade in its pilot fuel enrichment plant at Natanz," a Western diplomat said, reading from ElBaradei's report.
It said ElBaradei "expressed his serious concern about Iran's decision to unravel the suspension" since three years of IAEA probes had not yet resolved concerns about Iran's nuclear work.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said at a routine news conference in Beijing that the "best solution" to the Iranian nuclear issue currently is through talks between Iran and three European Union (EU) nations -- Britain, France and Germany.
China hopes that the talks can resume and make progress, Kong said, adding that China has maintained close contact with the various parties concerned to push forward the talks.
China has always advocated properly settling the Iranian nuclear issue within the framework of the IAEA, he said.
Russia called on Iran not to restart uranium enrichment and preserve the moratorium until the conclusion of consultations in Moscow in February.
"We are concerned over the latest reports about Iran declaring its intention to resume a number of programs connected with uranium enrichment," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Russia is continuing negotiations with Iran and will try to persuade Tehran to exercise patience during the talks, he said.
In Washington, the United States said it has no plan to attack Iran and remains committed to diplomacy over the country's controversial nuclear program.
"The president (George W. Bush) made it pretty clear, he said previously that Iran is not Iraq," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told a news briefing.
"We're working with the international community to solve this in a peaceful and diplomatic manner, that's what we've been doing and continue to do," McClellan said.
The spokesman also reiterated possibility to refer Iran's nuclear issue to the UN Security Council.
In London, Britain condemned Iran's decision to restart research in nuclear fuel, saying it would "seriously jeopardize" negotiations with the EU.
"This is a very negative development and seriously jeopardizes the negotiating process," said a spokesman at Britain's Foreign Office.
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in a statement that Iran's move amounted to yet another breach of IAEA Board resolutions, as well as the Paris Agreement that Iran signed with Britain, France and Germany in November 2004.
In the pact Iran agreed to freeze temporarily all uranium enrichment, reprocessing and conversion-related activities.
"There was no good reason why Iran should have taken this step if its intentions are truly peaceful and it wanted to resolve long-standing international concerns," said Straw.
"I will be in close touch with my French and German colleagues, along with Javier Solana (the EU foreign policy chief), in the coming days to discuss this. We will also be talking to other EU colleagues, international partners and Dr ElBaradei over the next few days," he added.
In Paris, French President Jacques Chirac warned Iran to respect its global obligations on nuclear energy, saying Tehran would be making a serious error if it refused to cooperate on the issue.
"Everyone recognizes the right of Iran ... to use nuclear energy for peaceful ends. But the international community must imperatively make sure that commitments, agreed for the security of all, are enforced," Chirac said in a New Year's address to the French diplomatic corps.
Warning that "the law applies equally to all," the president said Iran "would be committing a serious mistake" if it did not "take the hand that we are holding out."
In Genshagen, south of Berlin where the German cabinet is holding a two-day special meeting, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Iran had "crossed a line" by removing the seals of its atomic plants.
The German minister said the Iranians knew that they would face consequences as a result of their action, adding that as late as Monday there had been hopes that Tehran would return to a "path of reason."
Steinmeier told reporters that he would meet this week in Berlin his British and French counterparts for talks on the issue.