WASHINGTON - The United States said on Monday that if Iran is enriching uranium to 20 percent at an underground facility at Fordow, this would be a "further escalation" of its pattern of violating its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog, confirmed on Monday that Iran has started enriching uranium up to 20 percent at an underground site at Fordow, near the Shi'ite Muslim holy city of Qom, and said all atomic material there was under its surveillance.

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"The fact that the IAEA has made clear that they are enriching to a level that is inappropriate at Fordow is obviously a problem," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters at her daily briefing.

Nuland said the Vienna-based IAEA's assessment, previously reported by diplomats in Vienna, did not come as a surprise to the United States.

"If they are enriching at Fordow to 20 percent, this is a further escalation of their ongoing violations with regard to their nuclear obligations," Nuland said, referring to a series of UN Security Council resolutions calling on Iran to halt its enrichment-related activities.

Meanwhile on Monday, European Union diplomats said that the EU is expected to bring forward a meeting of foreign ministers due to decide on an oil embargo on Iran by one week to Jan. 23.

They said a final decision would be taken by a meeting of EU ambassadors in Brussels on Tuesday, and the aim would be to avoid overshadowing a summit of EU leaders set for Jan. 30.

"It looks likely it will be brought forward to the 23rd," one of the diplomats said.

EU states have already agreed in principle to an embargo on Iranian oil, part of the latest Western effort to ratchet up pressure on Tehran over its nuclear programme.

However, they still have to finalise details of when it will be imposed. Diplomats say the embargo could take several months to start because some EU capitals want a delay to shield their debt-stricken economies.

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