Kasra Naji in Tehran and Ian Traynor
Iran rejected UN demands that it freeze all aspects of its uranium enrichment programme yesterday, threatening to cancel access for nuclear inspectors and abandon its international nuclear commitments if the issue is taken to the security council.
A day after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) adopted a resolution demanding an immediate and comprehensive halt to the enrichment programme, Tehran declared the call was illegal and signalled it would press ahead.
Hassan Rohani, a senior Iranian official, said no decision had been taken to "expand" Iran's freeze on the enrichment of uranium, the process which is central to building a nuclear bomb but which is allowed under international treaties to run a civilian nuclear programme.
After a week of behind-the-scenes squabbling between the US, the big European countries and non-aligned countries, the IAEA delivered a warning to Iran, ordering a prompt freeze of "all uranium enrichment-related activities" and threatening implicitly to report Iran to the UN security council in November should Tehran remain recalcitrant.
Iran interprets the freeze narrowly, while the Europeans and the US are calling for a suspension of all uranium enrichment processes.
Under Iran's international treaty obligations, it is allowed to enrich uranium, so any suspension has to be voluntary and cannot be compelled by outsiders.
Halting the programme, however, is the fundamental policy aim since that is the best way to ensure that Tehran does not create a nuclear bomb.
Mr Rohani indicated that Tehran remained open to negotiations on the issue and that Iran would not enrich uranium for the moment, but would carry on with ancillary operations which come under the IAEA freeze demand.
The reaction in Tehran to the IAEA calls prefigured several weeks of brinkmanship and playing for time ahead of the next meeting of the IAEA board in November.
The Americans have had enough of arguing over the Iranian programme after almost two years of inspections and reports and want to take the issue to the security council unless Iran makes major concessions.
Mr Rohani declared yesterday that Iran already had the technology to produce nuclear bombs, a view that is shared by many experts and diplomats closely following the saga.
He said production of yellow cake, a treated uranium ore, was continuing, as was the production of feed material for hundreds of sophisticated centrifuge machines used to enrich uranium.
These are some of the processes that the IAEA has demanded should be halted.