Iran warned Sunday on the eve of a key U.N. nuclear watchdog meeting that it would resume large-scale uranium enrichment if its nuclear case was referred to the U.N. Security Council.
"If the nuclear dossier is referred to the UN Security Council, Iran will have to resume uranium enrichment," chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani told reporters at a press conference.
Vowing not to suspend small-scale enrichment work as required by the European Union (EU) and Russia, Larijani said "nuclear technology is one of Iran's sovereign rights which can never be abandoned."
Larijani's comments came just one day before a crucial meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors.
The UN nuclear watchdog adopted a resolution on Feb. 4 to report Iran's case to the UN Security Council but called on the powerful UN body to withhold punitive actions until the agency's meeting on March 6.
The IAEA resolution was seen as just a gesture aimed to press Iran to be more cooperative, but the meeting on Monday will be decisive for officially reporting or referring the case to the UN Security Council.
An IAEA report on the Iranian nuclear issue, drafted by the agency's Director General Mohamed ElBaradei for the meeting on Monday but revealed in late February, said that ambiguities on the scope and nature of Iran's nuclear program have not been clarified after three years of investigations.
The Washington Post reported on Saturday that the United States, pushing for Iran's case to be referred to the UN Security Council, is seeking a 30-day deadline for Tehran to halt its nuclear program and cooperate with international inspectors.
Also on Saturday, Larijani wrapped up a diplomatic tour to Vienna, where he held discussions with foreign ministers of the EU trio of Britain, France and Germany and the IAEA chief ElBaradei.
Larijani suggested that Iran should accept a selective suspension on its enrichment-related work, a last-ditch effort by Tehran to ease the tension.
The EU, however, turned down the Iranian proposal of putting a two-year moratorium on its industrial-scale uranium enrichment while continuing nuclear research.
Prior to his visit to the Austrian capital, Larijani held a round of two-day negotiations with Russian officials in Moscow on a compromise proposal aimed to break the deadlock on the Iranian nuclear issue.
Russia proposed last December that the two countries establish a joint venture in Russia to enrich uranium for Iran in order to guarantee the peaceful use of the nuclear technology.
As to the discussions in Vienna and Moscow, Iranian officials defined them as constructive, though failing to make breakthrough.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi said on
Sunday that it is possible for Iran to reach or not to reach an agreement on its nuclear program with the EU or Russia "in the coming few hours".
"Anything is possible," he told a weekly news briefing, warning that an involvement of the UN Security Council in the Iranian nuclear issue would be negative to the solution of the dispute.
"Tomorrow will be crucial for the IAEA, for a big test is confronting the agency, by which it will show how it defends its own authority and credibility by securing its members' rights. We hope the IAEA will avoid adopting political decision," Asefi stressed.
Asefi also accused the United States of taking double-standard when dealing with different countries on nuclear issue, citing the recent accord of nuclear cooperation between the United States and India.
The tension over Iran's nuclear program intensified after Tehran resumed nuclear fuel research on Jan. 10 and the crisis escalated as Iran stopped implementing voluntary confidence- building measures by disallowing the IAEA's snap inspections, as a retaliation against the IAEA resolution.
The EU trio broke off nuclear talks with Iran last August after the Islamic Republic restarted uranium conversion, the precursor to enriching uranium into fuel which can be used for nuclear power plant or making atom bomb.
Iran suspended all uranium enrichment-related activities in November 2004 to pave the way for nuclear talks with the EU.
Echoing the Unites States' accusation that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, the EU has proposed that Tehran give up enrichment in return for economic incentives.
But Iran rejected the U.S. charge and the EU proposal, insisting on its legal rights to peaceful nuclear technology.
Iran has made clear that its nuclear program is for fully peaceful purposes.