West rounds on Iran after damning nuclear report
Western nations rounded angrily on Iran Wednesday after the UN nuclear watchdog published its harshest report yet on Tehran's nuclear programme, saying it had sought to build atomic warheads.
France demanded unprecedented UN Security Council sanctions if Iran's defiance continued, the EU said its concerns were seriously aggravated and even ally China said Iran must be sincere after Tuesday's searing IAEA report.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said it had "serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear programme", prompting Tehran to insist it would "not budge an iota" from its nuclear path.
The French foreign ministry said that "if Iran refuses to abide by the demands of the international community and rejects all serious cooperation, we are prepared to adopt, with those countries that follow, unprecedented sanctions."
The report "means that Iran has sought, and apparently continues to seek, the nuclear bomb under the cover of an alleged civilian and peaceful programme," it said.
US Republican hawks demanded "crippling" economic retaliation, while a senior US official cautioned that the report did not offer definitive answers about the current state of Iran's alleged drive for nuclear bombs.
"We don't take anything off the table when we look at sanctions. We believe there is a broad spectrum of action we could take," a senior US official said on condition of anonymity.
The European Union said the report "seriously aggravates" existing concerns over a military dimension in Tehran's nuclear programme.
"Overall these findings strongly indicate the existence of a full fledged nuclear weapons development programme in Iran," said Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
Ashton represents six world powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- in stalled negotiations with Iran aimed at convincing Tehran to freeze its uranium enrichment activities.
Key Iran ally Russia said the report risked damaging the chance of a renewal of the talks.
"Russia is gravely disappointed and bewildered that the report is being turned into a source adding to the tensions over the problems connected to the Iranian nuclear programme," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
The ministry said the report now risked being used by those who wanted to see Iran painted in the worst possible light, in a possible reference to Israel and the United States.
Fellow UN Security Council member and Iran ally China urged Tehran to show "flexibility and sincerity" in the wake of the report.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing -- a close ally of Tehran -- was still studying the IAEA report but called on Iran to "engage in serious cooperation" with the nuclear agency.
Hong said the Iranian nuclear issue should be solved "through dialogue and cooperation" and urged the UN atomic watchdog to be "just and objective" and commit itself to clarifying "relevant issues".
Officials in Iran's arch-foe Israel were tightlipped on the report after growing calls there in recent weeks for a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.
The Haaretz newspaper quoted officials as saying Israel was holding off from comment "because it wants to evaluate the world's response to the IAEA findings and does not want to appear to be leading the international community."
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the report was "alarming".
"If Iran continues to refuse to conduct serious negotiations on its nuclear programme, new, more severe sanctions would be inevitable," Westerwelle said, adding that discussions with European partners and allies were under way.
But he said: "We rule out all discussion on a possible military option."
© 2011 AFP