The U.S. expressed discontent concerning Iran's breaking of U.N. seals to bring online a key nuclear fuel plant, calling it a sign of Tehran's disregard for the international community.
Iranian technicians on Wednesday removed seals placed by the UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at a uranium conversion plant in Isfahan, 400 kilometres (250 miles) south of Tehran, allowing the facility to return to full capacity and raising the stakes in a standoff with the international community.
"Today's breaking of seals is yet another sign of Iran's disregard for international concerns," Matt Boland, spokesman for the US mission to international organizations in Vienna, was quoted as saying by AP.
Iran on Monday took the first steps to break a suspension of nuclear fuel cycle work, which it had begun in November to start talks with the European Union on getting trade and other benefits in return for guarantees it was not making atomic weapons.
Iran's decision to resume nuclear activities has made months of careful European-led diplomatic overtures to Iran look fruitless, but neither the United States nor the Europeans have declared the process dead.
The United States would prefer harsh consequences, and swift ones, for what it claims is a long pattern of deception by Tehran over the nature and ambition of its nuclear program. For now, however, the United States is letting European capitals take the lead, and play the hawks.
"What we're trying to do, frankly, is to give Iran a chance to do the right thing," State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said Wednesday.
Iran should immediately suspend its resumed nuclear activities, and return to discussions with the Europeans, Ereli said.
Iran insists its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes, but is resisting demands to give up uranium enrichment — a process that can produce fuel for power plants or material for nuclear weapons, AP says.
Privately, U.S. officials doubt that Iran will change its mind and accept a European-led package of aid and economic incentives in exchange for giving up potential weapons-related nuclear activity, or that Iran will return to negotiations at all.
It was left to European officials to say that out loud.
"Everything should be done in the negotiations to achieve a change in Iran's position," said August Hanning, the head of Germany's foreign intelligence service. "On the other hand, I've been skeptical about the outcome of these negotiations, and I don't feel developments have proved me wrong."
Iran points out that its right to the nuclear fuel cycle is legally enshrined under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and that it has infringed no international rules by resuming uranium conversion.