TEHRAN — Within days, Iran said yesterday, it will resume building centrifuges for its nuclear program in a rejection of international castigation.
But Tehran said it welcomed international supervision of the building program and said it would not use the devices to enrich uranium — for the time being. The process can convert uranium into fuel for peaceful or military nuclear purposes.
The White House called Iran’s decision further proof that it was trying to build an atomic bomb. And the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency — the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog — said in Moscow that he hoped Iran would reverse its decision, a setback in international attempts to resolve the standoff.
“Iran’s continued failure to comply with the IAEA and continued failure to [halt] all enrichment-related reprocessing activities only reinforces the concerns we have expressed,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said in Washington.
“Iran needs to come clean and fully cooperate with its international obligations.”
“I hope that this decision is of a temporary nature. I hope it will be reversed,” IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said at a press conference in Moscow, where he was attending a meeting on nuclear power.
“Iran needs to do the maximum to build confidence after a period of confidence deficit. I look at this whole suspension of enrichment as part of this confidence building.”
Iran suspended the building of centrifuges and the enrichment of uranium under international pressure, part of the IAEA’s attempts to determine the intent of Iran’s nuclear program, much of which was kept secret for years.
The United States accuses Iran of trying to build nuclear weapons, and President Bush has labeled Iran part of an “axis of evil” with North Korea and prewar Iraq.
Iran maintains that its atomic program is peaceful and geared toward producing energy.
Tehran’s announcement yesterday came after the IAEA approved a European-drafted resolution rebuking Iran for past coverups in its nuclear program.
Iran informed the IAEA and the governments of Britain, Germany and France that it would resume building centrifuges tomorrow, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said.
But Tehran invited the IAEA and the three European countries to supervise the building, assembling and testing of centrifuges when the program resumes, Mr. Asefi said.
“We will do that according to regulations, under IAEA supervision,” he said.
Iran suspended uranium enrichment last year under international pressure and in a deal with Britain, Germany and France that extracted a European promise to make it easier for Iran to obtain advanced nuclear technology.
Iran says it will remain committed to that suspension despite European failure to provide the technology.
“Nothing important has happened,” Mr. Asefi said. “Europeans failed to respect their commitments. Therefore, there is no reason for us to keep our moral promise.
“We remain committed to voluntary suspension of uranium enrichment. We had cooperation with the IAEA, we have [it] now, and we will cooperate with the IAEA in the future.”
Though Mr. Asefi was critical of the Europeans, he said Iran’s decision did not mean that Tehran would end dialogue with them. Rather, another discussion between Iranian and European analysts is planned “in the coming days.”
Iran has said repeatedly that it wants to control the whole nuclear fuel cycle — from extracting uranium ore to enriching it to a low grade for use as nuclear reactor fuel. Uranium enriched to low levels can be used in power plants, and highly enriched uranium is needed for bombs.
In an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice called Iran’s nuclear program a “very tough situation” but “one that still has a diplomatic solution within sight.”
“But the Iranians every day demonstrate why the United States has been so hard on them and why the president put Iran into the ‘axis of evil’ when he talked about Iraq, North Korea and Iran back in his State of the Union address in January 2002,” Miss Rice said yesterday.