European states have called for further sanctions on Iran in the wake of a UN report that Tehran had worked on developing nuclear weapons, but Iran denounced the report as fabricated and said it would not compromise on its nuclear programme.
France took the lead in ratcheting up pressure, calling for a meeting of the security council; the foreign minister, Alain Juppé, said sanctions against Tehran should be raised to an “unprecedented scale” if Iran fails to co-operate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigations into past work on designing a nuclear warhead .
In a report issued on Tuesday, the UN agency said it had found credible evidence that Iran had been carrying out experiments aimed at designing a bomb on a substantial scale until late 2003, and may have continued work on a lower level after that time.
“Why are you ruining the prestige of the agency for absurd US claims?” he asked, in a speech to a crowd of several thousand people in the central city of Shahr-e-Kord in central Iran.
Iran has always rejected allegations it had a nuclear weapons programme, insisting that the aims behind its uranium enrichment efforts and extensive atomic research work have been entirely peaceful, and within Iran’s rights.
“This nation won’t retreat one iota from the path it is going,” Ahmadinejad said.
In a statement to the House of Commons on Wednesday morning, the British foreign secretary, William Hague, said: “The assertions of recent years by Iran that their nuclear programme is wholly for peaceful purposes are completely discredited by this report.”
Hague said that if Iran failed to enter serious negotiations on its programme, “we must continue to increase the pressure and we are considering with our partners a range of additional measures to that effect”.
Hague, however, did not go as far as his French counterpart in calling for a security council session, but rather noted that the IAEA member states would meet in a board session next week.
The board could opt, by majority vote, to refer Iran once more to the security council, but British diplomats think such a referral would be pointless in the face of the continued threat of Russian and Chinese vetoes.
Moscow and Beijing have both said they would study the IAEA report before issuing a definitive judgment, but both had argued strenuously against publication of intelligence on suspected weapons projects.
Moscow has since warned that the publication could hurt the chances of renewed talks on the issue and questioned whether the UN agency was “whipping up emotions”.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, criticised both Iran and the IAEA, calling on Tehran be “serious and flexible” and to co-operate with inspections while adding pointedly that the UN agency should be “objective”.
Government sources in Israel were quoted by Reuters news agency as saying that the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, had ordered his cabinet ministers not to speak publicly about the report, letting other world capitals take the lead.
In the runup to the report’s publication, however, Israeli officials had described it as the world’s last chance for a peaceful resolution of the Iranian nuclear crisis.
Germany said it firmly rejected any military action, calling instead for “new, stronger sanctions”.
The foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, said talks were under way between EU member states and international partners on new sanctions, which he called “unavoidable”.
Diplomats and observers said that any new punitive measures are likely to be incremental, possibly including a tightening of EU financial and travel sanctions to match US sanctions, and the addition of more targets to the UN financial sanctions list. Anything stronger is likely to be vetoed by Russia and China, they said.