TEHRAN, Iran - Iran has resumed small-scale enrichment of uranium, a senior Iranian nuclear negotiator said Tuesday, showing the country was determined to proceed with its atomic development despite international moves to restrict it.
The world has long sought to stop Iran from enriching uranium, fearing that the process would bring it to the threshhold of possessing nuclear bombs.
On Feb. 4, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported Iran to the U.N. Security Council and simultaneously called on its government to suspend all enrichment-related activities.
Instead, the Iranian government decided to suspend certain aspects of its cooperation with the IAEA and steam ahead with enrichment.
The deputy secretary of the Supreme National Council, Javad Vaeidi, told reporters that enrichment of uranium resumed last week at Iran's main enrichment plant in Natanz.
Asked if Iran had resumed large-scale enrichment, as required for producing fuel for nuclear reactors, Vaeidi replied: "No."
"We need time to have 60,000 centrifuges," he said, referring to the devices used in the enrichment process, which can produce fuel for an atomic bomb.
Diplomats in Vienna, Austria, the site of the U.N. nuclear agency, had said Monday that Iran had started small-scale enrichment of uranium,
"According to the presidential order (last week), and to the law passed by the parliament (last year), the order of resumption of uranium enrichment was issued," Vaeidi told the news conference.
The United States had criticized Iran for restarting enrichment on Monday when White House press secretary Scott McClellan said: "They're continuing to choose defiance and confrontation over cooperation and diplomacy."
The same day Iran announced it had postponed indefinitely talks with Moscow on a plan to enrich Tehran's uranium on Russian territory to allay fears that it would build an atomic weapon.
Moscow had proposed that Iran ship its uranium to Russia, where it would be enriched to a level suitable for nuclear reactors, rather than weapons.
The talks with Russia, which had been slated for Thursday, were postponed because of the "new situation," Iranian presidential spokesman Gholamhossein Elham said, referring to the IAEA's reporting Iran to the U.N. Security Council.
However a Russian news agency reported Tuesday that Iran asked Russia for only a four-day delay, until Feb. 20. RIA-Novosti quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin as saying that Tehran had requested the delay for "technical reasons."
Iran maintains its nuclear program is designed solely to generate electricity. But the United States and some U.S. allies, including Israel, claim the program is a cover for producing a nuclear bomb.
China urged the meetings with Russia take place as planned.
"China expresses its concern over the current development of the Iran nuclear issue," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said at a regular briefing.
He said, "China hopes that the talks between Russia and Iran can be held on schedule and achieve positive results."
Germany expressed disappointment that the Iranian-Russian talks had been postponed as the European powers had seen the Russian plan as a solution to the dispute over Iranian enrichment. Germany, Britain and France have been negotiating with Iran, but have failed to persuade it to abandon enrichment.