By GEORGE GEDDA
WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Colin Powell says the United States plans to press for a range of possible U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran in response to what he describes as a concerted effort by that country to develop nuclear weapons.
Powell told reporters Wednesday night the United States will urge the United Nations' nuclear watchdog group on Sept. 13 in Vienna to refer the Iranian case to the U.N. Security Council for action.
"We're looking at the range of possible actions of a political, economic, diplomatic nature,'' Powell said.
He commented while flying home from Panama after attending the inauguration of Panamanian President Martin Torrijos.
In Vienna, the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency said earlier Wednesday that Iran plans to process tons of raw uranium and restart its centrifuges - two activities that could be used to make nuclear warheads.
U.S. diplomats at the meeting said the revelations provided further evidence that Iran's activities pose "a threat to international peace and security.''
"Unless there are assurances that the international community can count on, I think it's appropriate that it (the Iran issue) be referred to the Security Council,'' Powell said.
He said it remains to be seen whether there is a consensus to do that now.
Diplomats said the IAEA report on Iran with the new disclosures was based on information provided by Iran's government. Iran insists its nuclear program is devoted to the peaceful generation of electricity.
Earlier Wednesday, Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton, the administration's point man on nuclear proliferation threats, said, "We view with great concern'' revelations in the IAEA report that Iran is about to convert 37 tons of yellow cake uranium into uranium hexafluoride gas.
Uranium hexafluoride is spun in centrifuges to produce enriched uranium, which in turn can be used to generate power or make nuclear warheads, depending on the degree of enrichment.
The United States will continue to urge other members of the U.N. agency's board of governors "to join with us in this effort to deal with the Iranian threat to international peace and security,'' Bolton said.
Another senior Bush administration official, in an interview in which his identity was withheld, said Iran was positioning itself to produce 220 pounds of enriched uranium, enough for four nuclear weapons.
U.N. inspectors have been looking for evidence that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program. Such a finding could be critical to the Bush administration's effort to gain support from the other 34 members of the agency to seek U.N. Security Council action.
Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman, said the report being circulated by the IAEA "continues to document the fact that through the past 18 years Iran has amassed a record of deception and denial about its nuclear activities.''
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's campaign criticized the Bush administration for going to war against Iraq on what it called discredited grounds instead of acting sooner to marshal U.S. allies to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
The IAEA report shows "a leading state sponsor of terrorism is yet another step closer to nuclear weapons capability,'' said Susan Rice, Kerry's senior national security adviser. "Yet the Bush administration has stood on the sidelines while this nuclear program has advanced. ... It is past time for this administration to develop a tough and effective strategy for dealing with Iran.''