Harper demands Iran halt uranium enrichment

Prime Minister Stephen Harper calls on Iran to halt enrichment of its uranium. He said the enrichment would bring Iran "considerably closer" to possessing weapons-grade material.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Wednesday called on Iran to halt enrichment of its uranium.

Harper said the move would bring Iran "considerably closer" to possessing weapons-grade material.

"It is time for Iran to end its defiance of the international community, suspend its enrichment activity and take immediate steps toward transparency and compliance by halting the construction of new enrichment sites, and fully co-operating with the International Atomic Energy Agency," Harper said in a statement.

On Feb. 7, Iran said it would begin enriching its uranium to a higher level. On Tuesday, Iranian state television said the process had begun in the presence of United Nations nuclear watchdog inspectors.

Uranium enrichment is a major source of friction between Iran and Western governments, who worry about Iran's nuclear ambitions. The West is concerned Iran will try to use enriched uranium to develop nuclear weapons.

Western governments have threatened sanctions against Iran if the country doesn't comply with an International Atomic Energy Agency plan that would see Iran's uranium shipped abroad for enriching.

Iran has insisted that enriched uranium is needed to create fuel for a planned network of nuclear reactors.

On Wednesday, Iranian Vice-President Ali Akhbar Salehi said the enrichment process was going smoothly but would stop if Iran could get enough enriched uranium from abroad for its nuclear reactor .

France and the United States have said that Iran's actions have left no choice but for them to push for a fourth set of UN Security Council sanctions against Iran.

Harper said Canada will support its allies on the  issue.

"Canada will continue to work with our allies to find strong and viable solutions, including sanctions, to hold Iran to account," the prime minister said. "Canada will use its G-8 presidency to continue to focus international attention and action on the Iranian regime."

with files from The Associated Press