Officials: Iran still enriching uranium in defiance of U.N. .

Wednesday, August 30th 2006, 8:36 am
By: News On 6

VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ Iran has kept enriching uranium despite the threat of U.N. sanctions and a looming deadline to freeze such operations, U.N. and European officials said Wednesday.

Iran's president, meanwhile, urged Europe against following the lead of the United States and resorting to sanctions, saying punishment would not prevent it from pursuing its nuclear program.

``Sanctions cannot dissuade the Iranian nation from achieving our lofty goals of progress. So it's better for Europe to be independent in decision-making and to settle problems through negotiations,'' hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, according to Iranian state-run television.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the information was confidential, said Iran had continued to enrich uranium until at least Tuesday. The U.N. Security Council set Thursday as the final day for Tehran to freeze such activity.

Iranian defiance on enrichment will be detailed in a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency due Thursday. The newest Iranian enrichment of uranium _ the latest in a series of such activities in the past few months _ was first reported Wednesday by The Washington Post, and diplomats told The Associated Press that it had continued at least into Tuesday.

Immediate sanctions are unlikely, as permanent council members Russia and China are expected to resist U.S.-led efforts for a quick response.

A senior European official said Tehran has not responded to a recent European Union offer, on behalf of the five Security Council members plus Germany, to discuss Tehran's terms for new nuclear talks. The further sign of Iran's willingness to confront the international community is likely to fuel Washington's push for swift economic sanctions,

Inspectors for the Vienna-based IAEA remained in Iran Wednesday as they continued gathering information that will go into Thursday's non-public report. While their most recent findings were not available Wednesday afternoon, a senior U.N. official said that Iranian centrifuges were enriching small quantities of uranium gas as late as Tuesday.

Enriched uranium can be used in civilian nuclear reactions or, at greater purity, as fissile material for an atomic warhead.

Iran insists it has a right to enrich uranium for what it says is a future nuclear power program. There is increasing concern, however, that Tehran is seeking to become a nuclear-armed state.

The United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany offered Iran a package of technological and political incentives June 1 in exchange for Tehran's commitment to freeze enrichment before talks began.

Tehran responded Aug. 21 in what heads of governments and senior diplomats have characterized as an inadequate counteroffer that will be rejected. The response makes no mention of any willingness to suspend enrichment before talks, let alone a long-term moratorium on such activity.