Israel is hopeful that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will on Monday continue what it started last month and formally refer the Iranian nuclear file to the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions, government officials said Sunday.
The officials said that the fact that the Iranians had not agreed to a Russian proposal to enrich uranium in Russia increased the chances that action would indeed begin in the Security Council on the Iranian dossier.
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Nevertheless, Israeli officials have been very cautious against expecting any dramatic sanctions at the outset that would convince the Iranians that it would be more in their interest to stop the development of their nuclear program than to go ahead with it. These officials said that referral to the Security Council was the first step down "a very long" corridor to keep Iran from gaining nuclear weapons.
While Israel has been lobbying intensively for years to get the Iranian dossier taken up by the Security Council, there is concern in Jerusalem that too much time has been wasted, and there is now a significant gap between Iran's development and the diplomatic efforts to stop it.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni discussed the need to send the Iranian file to UN during talks she had last week in Vienna, Paris and London.
Iran, meanwhile, warned Sunday that it will start large-scale uranium enrichment if it is referred to the UN Security Council.
"If Iran's nuclear dossier is referred to the UN Security Council, (large-scale) uranium enrichment will be resumed," Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani told a news conference in Teheran.
"If they (the US and its allies) want to use force, we will pursue our own path," he said.
"Research and development won't stop, but we are ready to agree to a timetable on (large-scale uranium) enrichment. This is the final proposal from Iran to find a solution," he said.
Iran only has an experimental research program and it would need months to begin any large-scale enrichment.
Larijani also said Iran would not abandon nuclear research, or back down from pursuing its nuclear program if the country was taken to the Security Council.
"Nuclear research and development is part of Iran's national interests and sovereignty and it won't give it up," he said.
Iran, Larijani said, had exhausted "all peaceful ways" and said that if there were demands made contrary to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran "will resist." "We are ready to set a timetable for uranium enrichment" if Iran's rights are accepted, he added.
Taking Iran to the UN Security Council, he said, is "not an advantage for us and others. It can also make problems for others. However, it will not cause Iran to give up nuclear research and development. If anybody doubts this, they can test it."
Iran, according to Larijani. "will show appropriate cooperation with the IAEA if Iran's nuclear issue remains within the agency."
US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton said Monday that "If Iran follows the course of Libya and realizes that the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and support of terror make it less, not more secure, its relations with the outside world will improve dramatically."
Earlier, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi had said Iran could reach a nuclear agreement with Russia or Europe within the next few hours.
Asefi said such a deal would be called off if the IAEA referred the Islamic republic to the Security Council, and added that the Russian proposal to enrich Iranian nuclear fuel needed more discussion.
"Both an agreement, and its absence, is possible. Nothing is definite," he said.
On Thursday, Iran and Russia held talks to establish a joint uranium enrichment venture to ease concerns over its nuclear ambitions. However, further negotiations on the details did not produce a clear-cut decision as Iran did not entirely give up plans for domestic enrichment - a key Western demand.
Enrichment is a key process that can determine the direction of a nuclear program. Uranium enriched to a low level produces fuel for a nuclear reactor, while higher enrichment produces the material needed for a warhead.
Asefi also criticized what he described as the double standard in US nuclear policy, citing Washington's recent deal with India as an example.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi also said Washington was systematically trying to show Teheran in a bad light.