The United States says Iran is only further isolating itself with its nuclear decisions, the latest being Wednesday's removal of U.N. inspectors' seals at its Isfahan uranium plant. U.S. officials say consensus is building for a strong rebuke of Iran by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The State Department says the removal of the seals at Isfahan is part of a series of provocative moves by Iran beginning late last week when it turned down a European offer of incentives to end sensitive nuclear activity.
Breaking an agreement it made with Britain, France and Germany last November, Iran this week restarted uranium conversion activity at the Isfahan plant, and on Wednesday it removed U.N. seals that had been placed on equipment there as part of that accord.
The breakdown of the Iran-EU talks prompted an emergency meeting in Vienna of the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, where diplomats from the United States and the so-called EU-3 are seeking a resolution condemning Iran and calling on it to reverse the latest moves.
At a news briefing, Deputy State Department Spokesman Adam Ereli said the developments at Isfahan are a clear message that Iran is moving away from cooperation with an international community concerned about its nuclear intentions:
"It shows that Iran is just isolating itself further, digging itself deeper into a hole," he said. "We continue to work closely with the EU-3 and other members of the IAEA board of governors. We want to send Iran a strong message that it is critically important to reestablish the suspension on uranium conversion activities, and to cooperate fully with the IAEA in resolving all the unanswered questions about its nuclear program."
The 35-nation IAEA board cancelled a formal session tentatively planned for Wednesday as diplomats held private talks on a resolution dealing with Iran's latest actions.
Spokesman Ereli said the United States was working to achieve the broadest consensus possible on the strongest possible resolution.
But a senior diplomat who spoke to reporters here was non-committal about whether the resolution would set a deadline for Iran to reverse recent actions or face referral of the issue to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.
The United States believes Iran's nominally-peaceful nuclear program has a secret weapons component. It has long supported a referral of the matter to the Security Council, but there has been resistance from some other IAEA board members.
The U.S. diplomat said a Security Council referral remains a possible consequence of Iranian defiance, regardless of whether it is explicitly mentioned in a resolution.
He said what the United States wants to see from the IAEA board is a clear statement of international concern, an opportunity for Iran to make things right, and a timely process for reviewing its response and deciding on next steps as needed.
Iran has defended the resumption of work at the Isfahan plant, saying it has the right to develop a complete fuel cycle for an envisaged network of nuclear power plants.
Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday he wanted to continue talks with the EU-three and that he would present new nuclear proposals after his government takes office.
President Bush told reporters in Texas those comments were a positive sign, though saying he remained skeptical of Iran's overall intentions.