Iran Threatens To Retaliate

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, meets Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Mehdi Safari in Moscow Monday, Jan. 23, 2006. Russia has close ties with Tehran and is building Iran's first nuclear power reactor, but has been moving closer to the Western position on Iran and is reluctant to let the issue cause a major rift in its relations with the United States and Europe. In his meeting with Safari, Lavrov stressed the common interests Russia and Iran share. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze)
Iran will immediately retaliate if referred to the U.N. Security Council next week by forging ahead with developing a full-scale uranium enrichment program, a senior envoy said Monday.

The comments by Ali Asghar Soltaniyeh, a senior envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, reflected Iran's defiance in the face of growing international pressure over its nuclear program. Enrichment can be used in electricity production but it also is needed in making uranium-based nuclear weapons.

"We know they have a lot of nuclear facilities," said Charles Ferguson, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. "We know they've been developing this for almost twenty years. But there really is no smoking gun evidence, so to speak, of a nuclear weapons program in Iran."

Separately, Iran's top nuclear negotiator planned to travel to Moscow on Tuesday for a high-level session as talks intensified surrounding a proposal to have Iran's uranium enriched in Russia, then returned to Iran for use in the country's reactors, a compromise that would provide more oversight and ease tensions.

Ending a 15-month commitment, Iran removed IAEA seals from equipment Jan. 10 and announced it would restart experiments, including what it described as small-scale enrichment, a move that led key European countries to call for an emergency session of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency's board of governors Feb. 2.

The Europeans also began drafting a basic text for a resolution calling for the Security Council to press Tehran to reimpose its total freeze on enrichment and "to extend full and prompt cooperation to the agency" in its investigation of suspect nuclear activities, though it stops short of asking the council to impose sanctions.

Soltaniyeh, in comments to The Associated Press, warned against referral, suggesting such a "hasty decision" would backfire.

Whether Iran's suspension of its full-scale enrichment program remains in effect "depends on the decision of Feb. 2," he said. Asked if that meant Iran would resume efforts to fully develop its nascent enrichment activities if the board votes for referral at that meeting, he said, "yes."

Iran insists its nuclear ambitions do not go beyond wanting to generate fuel, but concerns are growing its main focus is trying to make nuclear weapons, something more than three years of IAEA investigations have failed to prove or disprove.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, meanwhile, rejected a request by the United States and several other member nations for a full report on the agency's investigation into Iran's nuclear program, signaling his resistance to ratcheting up pressure on Tehran.