Nuclear enrichment expanded, says IAEA

VIENNA: Iran has expanded its uranium enrichment programme instead of complying with a U.N. Security Council ultimatum to freeze it, said the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency on Thursday. The finding clears the path for harsher Security Council sanctions against Tehran.

``Iran has not suspended its enrichment-related activities,'' said the International Atomic Energy Agency, basing its information on material available to it as of Saturday.

The conclusion while widely expected was important because it could serve as the trigger for the Council to start deliberating on sanctions meant to punish Tehran for its nuclear intransigence.

In a report written by IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, the agency also said the Islamic republic continued construction of a reactor that would use heavy water and a heavy water production plant also in defiance of the Security Council.

Both enriched uranium and plutonium produced by heavy water reactors can produce the fissile material used in nuclear warheads.

The six-page report obtained by the Associated Press also said the agency experts remained ``unable ... to make further progress in its efforts to verify fully the past development of Iran's nuclear programme'' due to lack of Iranian cooperation.

That, too, put it in violation of the Security Council, which on December 23 told Tehran to ``provide such access and cooperation as the agency requests to be able to verify ... all outstanding issues'' within 60 days. The report sent both to the Security Council and the Agency's 35 board member nations set the stage for a fresh showdown between Iran and Western powers.

Even before it was issued, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. and its allies would use the U.N. Security Council and other ``available channels'' to bring Tehran back to negotiations over its nuclear programme.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was ``deeply concerned ... that the Iranian government did not meet the [Wednesday] deadline set by the Security Council.

``I urge again that the Iranian government should fully comply with the Security Council'' as soon as possible, he told reporters in Vienna, saying Iran's nuclear activities had ``great implications for peace and security, as well as nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.'' AP