Iran removed seals on its nuclear research facilities today, allowing work to resume despite warnings from Western countries concerned about its nuclear ambitions, Iranian nuclear authorities said.
The United States promptly rebuked Iran for the move, calling it a step toward creating the material for nuclear bombs.
The seals' removal will increase pressure on Iran from Western nations which have called for it to cease nuclear activities until an agreement has been reached on the scope of its nuclear program.
The deputy head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Mohammad Saeedi, told reporters at a press conference that officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency had authorized the seals' removal last night.
"Today, with the powers delegated by IAEA inspectors in Iran, some of the seals that are in the field of only research were removed, and research facilities resume their work," Saeedi said.
Saeedi indicated that Iranians had actually taken off the seals when he said they were removed "in the presence of IAEA inspectors."
In Vienna, IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said the Iranians had removed the seals at the Natanz facility in the presence of IAEA inspectors.
Fleming said the UN agency's 35-nation board of governors would be informed later today about what the Iranians planned to do with the unsealed equipment.
IAEA inspectors had arrived in Tehran on Saturday to remove the seals put on the nuclear research sites more than two years ago.
Saeedi stressed that Iran was not resuming the production of nuclear fuel, a process that would involve uranium enrichment.
"What we resume is merely in the field of research, not more than that," he said.
"We make a difference between research on nuclear fuel technology and production of nuclear fuel. Production of nuclear fuel remains suspended."
Saeedi did not specify which nuclear facilities were resume work, saying that the equipment from which the seals were removed was "a confidential issue between us and the IAEA."
He added that the agreement on removal came Monday night after intensive talks between Iran and the IAEA.
In Vienna, the chief US representative to the IAEA, Gregory L Schulte, said that by cutting the seals, Iran had shown "its disdain for international concerns and its rejection of international diplomacy.
"The regime continues to chose confromtation over cooperation, a choice that deepens the isolation of Iran and harms the interests of the Iranian people. Iran is taking another deliberate step toward enrichment, which creates the material for nuclear bombs," Schulte said.
Senior US, German and British officials had criticized Iran yesterday for its declared intention to resume nuclear work that it had suspended as a good will gesture toward negotiations on its nuclear program.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said each of the permanent members of the UN Security Council had told Iran to drop its plans or risk being hauled before the council for possible sanctions.
"We are working very closely with Russia, China and France and Britain on sending a clear message to the Iranians," McCormack said.
In Berlin, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said yesterday that Iran was sending "very, very disastrous signals" on its nuclear program, and indicated that the country's latest moves would have consequences for Tehran's talks with European negotiators.
In New York, Britain's UN Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry told reporters that if Iran carried out its pledge of resuming nuclear activities, then it would be in violation of the IAEA.
"It's quite clear if Iran today, or in the next days, takes the steps it has announced it will do, then it will be in breach of the wishes of the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency," he said.
The United States believes Iran is seeking to build nuclear weapons. Iran denies this, saying its program is limited to generating electricity. The IAEA has called on Iran to cease a range of nuclear activities until certain questions have been answered about the scope of its nuclear program.
The head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, has criticized Iran for failing to provide satisfactory answers to the questions.Reuse content