(BBC) Iran’s President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad has asked the country’s nuclear chief to begin enriching uranium to
20 per cent.
The move comes amid a worsening
stand-off over a Western offer for Iran to swap enriched uranium for
The West fears Iran is trying
to develop nuclear weapons – and have threatened new sanctions. Iran insists
its programme is peaceful.
The US defence secretary urged the
world to “stand together”, saying there was still time for sanctions
In London, the Foreign Office said Mr Ahmadinejad’s
announcement was “clearly a matter of serious concern”.
“This would be a deliberate
breach of five UNSCRs [United Nations Security Council Resolutions],” it
said in a statement.
In January, diplomats said Iran had
informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it did not accept
the terms of the deal agreed in October by Iran, the IAEA and the P5+1 – the
US, Russia, China, UK and France plus Germany.
Earlier this week, the US, Britain
and France circulated a
discussion paper on further possible sanctions against Tehran.
But China says the P5+1 must remain
patient and keep pursuing a diplomatic solution to the issue.
Mr Ahmadinejad made the
announcement on Iranian state television – two days after his foreign minister
said a deal on swapping enriched uranium for nuclear fuel was close – a claim
greeted with scepticism by Western powers.
Civilian nuclear power requires
uranium enriched to about 3 per cent. Weapons grade uranium needs to be enriched
to 90 per cent.
it wants to supply a research reactor with highly enriched uranium following
the breakdown of the international deal to provide fuel for it.
But some Western analysts say Iran does not
possess the technical know-how to make fuel rods for the reactor and Western
countries fear this could be a stepping stone towards the manufacture of weapons-grade
Existing UN sanctions are meant to
prevent the flow of any items or technology which might aid Iran in
enriching uranium or developing nuclear weapon delivery systems.
The sanctions range from actual sales or supplies
to dealings with named individuals.