VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ Iran has expanded its uranium enrichment program instead of complying with a U.N. Security Council ultimatum to freeze it, the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said Thursday in a finding that clears the way for harsher sanctions against Tehran.
``Iran has not suspended its enrichment-related activities,'' said the International Atomic Energy Agency, basing its information on material available to it as of Saturday.
The conclusion _ while widely expected _ was important because it could serve as the trigger for the council to start deliberating on new sanctions meant to punish Tehran for its nuclear intransigence.
In a report written by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, the agency also said the Islamic republic continues construction of a reactor that will use heavy water and a heavy water production plant _ also are in defiance of the Security Council.
Both enriched uranium and plutonium produced by heavy water reactors can produce the fissile material used in nuclear warheads. Iran denies such intentions, saying it needs the heavy water reactor to produce radioactive isotopes for medical and other peaceful purposes and enrichment to generate energy.
The six-page report obtained by The Associated Press also said that agency experts remain ``unable ... to make further progress in its efforts to verify fully the past development of Iran's nuclear program'' due to lack of Iranian cooperation.
That, too, put it in violation of the Security Council, which on Dec. 23 told Tehran to ``provide such access and cooperation as the agency requests to be able to verify ... all outstanding issues'' within 60 days.
The report _ sent both to the Security Council and the agency's 35 board member nations _ set the stage for a fresh showdown between Iran and Western powers.
Even before it was issued, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. and its allies would use the Security Council and other ``available channels'' to bring Tehran back to negotiations over its nuclear program. And U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was ``deeply concerned ... that the Iranian government did not meet the (Wednesday) deadline set by the Security Council.''
``I urge again that the Iranian government should fully comply with the Security Council'' as soon as possible, he told reporters in Vienna, saying Iran's nuclear activities had ``great implications for peace and security, as well as nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.''