LONDON -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair said yesterday that Iran should be brought before the United Nations Security Council for defying the international community and resuming research on enriching uranium, a move some Western leaders fear is a step toward the construction of nuclear weapons.
The statement came as the United States and its chief European allies seemed to be moving toward agreement to address the issue of Iran's nuclear program at the United Nations, rather than by continuing the multilateral negotiations that Britain, France and Germany have been conducting with Iran for the past two years.
"We have to take immediate steps to protect the security of the world," the British leader told Parliament.
But in the face of global disapproval, Iran's senior leaders vowed not to be dissuaded by any possible U.N. action in response to Iran's decision Tuesday to break seals placed by the International Atomic Energy Agency on its uranium enrichment facility in Natanz two years ago.
"The Iranian nation will continue its way decisively and wisely to obtain and use nuclear technology for civilian ends and has no fear at all of the fuss created by the big powers," said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Iran informed the IAEA that it was resuming the nuclear research, although it said it would continue to allow its activities to be watched over by IAEA personnel. The government insisted that its activities are meant only to further a legal civilian nuclear power program.
Western countries, however, suspect Iran of seeking to master the enrichment process to gain the capacity to build nuclear weapons in the future. They are particularly concerned due to the recent election of Ahmadinejad, who is militantly anti-Western and anti-Israel, having repeatedly denied Israel's right to exist in the Middle East.
IAEA officials were told Iran is preparing a small-scale pilot program to use centrifuge cascades to treat uranium gas in a process that could yield small amounts of enriched uranium. Depending on the process and the amounts, enriched uranium can be used either as fuel for power generation at civilian nuclear plants or in weapons.
Foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, the three European countries that have been in talks with Iran on the nuclear issue, planned an emergency meeting today in Berlin with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana. According to British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, referring Iran to the Security Council would be at the top of the agenda.
The Bush administration had initially been skeptical about the talks between Iran and the so-called EU-3, preferring a more confrontational approach with Iran, but reversed course last year to allow the European talks to play out with U.S. backing. Now that those talks have come to an apparent dead end, the Security Council seems the logical next step, U.S. and European officials said.
"The decision by Iran is very serious indeed. I don't think there is any point in us hiding our deep dismay at what Iran has decided to do," said Blair, speaking during the prime minister's weekly question time in the House of Commons.
"When taken in conjunction with their other comments about the state of Israel, they cause real and serious alarm right across the world."
In the United States, Vice President Dick Cheney spoke harshly about the Iranian regime in an interview on Fox News, saying the next step would be to seek Security Council action, a move he said was still "speculative" because no decision to go to the United Nations had been made.
President Bush, speaking in Kentucky, went out of his way to stress that the United States aims to use diplomatic, rather than military, means.
"Obviously, the best way to deal with these kinds of threats is diplomatically. We're doing so in Iran," Bush said. "The military option is always the last option."
John Daniszewski writes for the Los Angeles Times.