U.S. President George W. Bush says the UN nuclear watchdog's decision to report Iran to the Security Council sends a "clear message" that the world won't let Tehran have atomic weapons.
Bush's comments followed an escalation in tensions over Iran's nuclear program on Saturday, as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) voted to report Iran to the Security Council and Tehran responded by saying it would end all snap UN inspections at nuclear facilities.
The IAEA's referral could lead to UN sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, but Bush said the move didn't signal an end to diplomatic efforts. Instead, it marked the start of more intense talks to ensure Iran didn't develop nuclear weapons, the president said.
"This important step sends a clear message to the regime in Iran that the world will not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons," Bush said.
Iran says its nuclear program is meant solely to generate electricity and insists it has the right to enrich uranium.
However, the United States and many European Union countries believe Iran wants to build atomic bombs under cover of a civilian nuclear energy program â a fear that was fueled by the discovery three years ago that Iran had run a covert nuclear program for 18 years.
The IAEA's 35-nation board of governors voted 27-3 to make the referral to the Security Council, with five countries abstaining, at a meeting in Vienna Saturday. Only Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria voted against the referral.
The IAEA resolution expressed concern that Tehran's nuclear program may not be "exclusively for peaceful purposes." It said the agency was not confident of Iran's intentions because of its "history of concealment" of its nuclear activities and "Iran's many failures and breaches of its obligations" under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responded by saying Iran would resume the production of enriched uranium, which can be used for either nuclear energy or nuclear weapons. Tehran also said it would end all snap UN inspections at its nuclear sites beginning on Sunday.
- FROM FEB. 3, 2006: Nuclear watchdog delays Iran vote
The development comes after weeks of intense diplomacy at the IAEA. The crisis deepened when Iran took the UN seals off its enrichment equipment on Jan. 10 and said it was resuming activities.
The Security Council won't deliberate on the referral until at least March 6, after IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei issues another report on the country's nuclear program.
Javad Vaidi, head of the Iranian delegation to the IAEA meeting, told reporters the "resolution is politically motivated and is not based on "any legal or technical grounds."