France, Britain, Germany and the United States on Wednesday took advantage of a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council to condemn Iran's decision to begin enriching uranium at an underground bunker.
The volley of criticism of Tehran will likely add to the pressure on Iran to curb its nuclear program, though Western envoys said there was little chance the 15-nation council would impose a fifth round of UN sanctions on the Iranians anytime soon due to resistance from veto powers Russia and China.
"It's a worrying development," French Deputy Ambassador Martin Briens told reporters about Iran's enrichment work after the council meeting. He added that Tehran's new move was a violation of multiple resolutions of the UN Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors.
As sanctions have begun to squeeze the Islamic Republic, Iran has threatened to shut the Strait of Hormuz, the outlet for 40 percent of the world's traded oil.
At the same time, it has called for fresh nuclear talks with the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, a group known as the "P5+1," which have been stalled for a year.
But Briens said it was Iran that was preventing the resumption of negotiations with the P5+1. "We keep on trying to get ... serious negotiations to start, but so far Iran has not responded," he said.
The United States imposed additional sanctions on Iran last month and the European Union is expected to agree on a ban on imports of Iranian crude oil later this month.
Diplomats said Russian and Chinese envoys also voiced worries about Iran's latest nuclear announcement.
"A number of council members expressed concern," Britain's Deputy UN Ambassador Philip Parham said. "Russia also said this was a matter for concern and China talked about the need to comply with international obligations."
"There is no doubt about concern in the Security Council on this issue," Parham said. Russian and Chinese envoys did not address reporters after the council meeting.
Both Briens and Parham said that the former clandestine nature of the underground enrichment facility near the city of Qom cast doubt on Iran's statements that the facility is for civilian purposes. The then secret site's existence was revealed in September 2009 by the United States, France and Britain.
"We see this as a step of escalation by ... Iran," Deputy German Ambassador Miguel Berger said.
U.S. Deputy Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo echoed the views of her European counterparts, saying Iran had "no justification for enriching uranium at this level."
Despite the expressions of concern, Western diplomats said the council was not ready to approve additional UN sanctions against Tehran at the moment due to Russian and Chinese opposition.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Wednesday that Moscow opposed U.S. and possible European oil sanctions against Iran, even if Tehran presses ahead with uranium enrichment.
Berger said council members did not discuss the killing on Wednesday in Tehran of an Iranian nuclear scientist, who was blown up in his car by a motorbike hitman. Iran blamed the United States and Israel for the attack, though Washington denied any connection to the apparent assassination.
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