International pressure for new sanctions against Iran grew on Monday after Tehran announced plans to make higher-enriched uranium and add 10 nuclear sites in a year, raising Western fears it wants to develop atom bombs.
The United States and France led calls for what would be a fourth, broader set of punitive sanctions, while a senior lawmaker in Russia, which in the past has urged talks rather than punishment, said economic measures should be considered.
A senior US administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, called Iran's announcement "a provocative move" that was in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions and risked increasing regional instability.
Among the big powers, only China, which can block any UN sanctions with its veto on the Security Council, has remained unswervingly opposed to punishing the big Middle Eastern oil exporter.
Iran – which says uranium enrichment is part of its programme to generate electricity, not make nuclear bombs – said on Monday it would start making higher-grade reactor fuel on Tuesday and add 10 uranium-enrichment plants over the next year.
The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Tehran had told the UN nuclear watchdog of its plan and said it would damage chances of saving a proposed atomic fuel supply deal between Iran and world powers.
Iran's government said it acted in frustration over Western powers' unwillingness to consider its requests for amendments to a UN draft plan for the powers to provide highly processed fuel material for a nuclear medicine reactor in Tehran.
Analysts said Iran would need a few months to reconfigure its Natanz plant to refine uranium to higher purity, and that it lacked the technical means to build 10 more sites in the foreseeable future.