UNITED NATIONS, May 3 -- A defiant Iran said Tuesday that it is determined to hold on to all aspects of its nuclear program, including uranium enrichment, and lashed out at the United States and Europe for trying to limit its efforts.
The comments, made by Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi at a conference on the future of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, came as officials in Tehran indicated that they are ready to end a suspension of some of their nuclear programs.
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, left, confers with Iranian Ambassador M. Javad Zarif, center, before speaking at a U.N. meeting on nuclear nonproliferation.
(Frank Franklin Ii -- AP)
"We will definitely restart some activities," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters. He did not specify which operations would resume or when, but he added that uranium enrichment "will remain the last option."
European officials reacted cautiously, suggesting that the comments had more to do with Iranian domestic politics than with a desire to break off negotiations with Europe. But one senior European official, who would discuss strategy only on the condition of anonymity, said that if Iran begins any work with uranium -- a key ingredient in nuclear weapons -- it is likely that Britain, France and Germany will consider their negotiations with Iran terminated.
The pronouncements left little doubt that the crisis over Tehran's nuclear program is escalating and that two years of Iranian-European negotiations are in trouble.
U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier assured Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a meeting in Washington Tuesday that if Iran makes good on its promises, France will support taking the matter into the U.N. Security Council -- a move the Bush administration has been pushing and the Iranians have hoped to avoid.
Barnier emphasized calm and said France believes that a showdown could be avoided. But one U.S. official said the administration began working Tuesday on options for Security Council action, which could include warnings to Iran or the threat of economic sanctions if the nuclear program continues.
Under the terms of the nuclear treaty, which are being reviewed at the conference this month, Iran and other countries that forgo nuclear weapons are eligible for sensitive nuclear technology as long as it is used for peaceful energy programs. Iran maintains that it is adhering to that arrangement, but the Bush administration said Monday that Iran should not be allowed to benefit from it any longer because it spent 18 years building nuclear facilities in secret.
Iran's main nuclear site was exposed by a dissident group in 2002, fueling suspicions about the Islamic republic's true intentions and setting off a two-year investigation by U.N. inspectors. The inspectors have said they have found no proof Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons. But the Bush administration has not accepted those findings or Iran's assertions.
"The only way to really satisfy and reassure the world that they're not going to be a nuclear threat is to eliminate those programs," State Department spokesman Richard A. Boucher said Tuesday.
Kharrazi, who chose to deliver his speech to the nuclear conference in English rather than in his native Farsi, said that will not happen.
Iran is "determined to pursue all legal areas of nuclear technology, including enrichment, exclusively for peaceful purposes," he said.
Kharrazi said Iran "has been eager to offer assurances and guarantees that they remain permanently peaceful." But, he said, "no one should be under the illusion" that Iran will give up its right to develop civilian nuclear energy.
It is wrong, Kharrazi said, to limit "access to peaceful nuclear technology to an exclusive club of technologically advanced states under the pretext of nonproliferation."
Iran's threats to restart some of its nuclear work came after a difficult round of negotiations last week in London with diplomats from Britain, France and Germany. The Europeans have said they want the negotiations to conclude with an Iranian agreement to give up the sensitive aspects of its nuclear program that can be diverted for weapons work. In exchange, they would enter into lucrative trade deals with Iran that could potentially transform Iran's economic future.
But the Iranians have been seeking ways to hold on to nuclear technology. The country suggested last week that it be allowed to keep 3,000 centrifuges, which would give it the industrial-scale capability to enrich large quantities of uranium. As part of such an arrangement, Iran would operate the centrifuges under 24-hour surveillance by U.N. inspectors.
A European official familiar with the offer called it a "subjective guarantee, not an objective one," because it would leave Iran with the ability to make bomb-grade uranium.
Cliff Kupchan, a Middle East specialist with the Eurasia Group, a New York-based consultancy firm, said Kharrazi's comments have as much to do with Iran's disappointment with Europe as with the country's national elections in June.
"The Iranians didn't think the negotiations would go on this long and they are now thoroughly frustrated by that," said Kupchan, who returned from a trip to Iran six weeks ago. "But it's also election season in Iran and everyone who is involved in the nuclear negotiations are jockeying for their next jobs."