WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An Iranian rocket launch and reports that Iran is testing an advanced centrifuge are “deeply disturbing” and strengthen the case for a third U.N. sanctions resolution against Tehran, a top U.S. official said on Friday.
Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns made the comment as he sought to spur the U.N. Security Council to approve fresh sanctions on Iran for failing to suspend uranium enrichment, which can produce fuel for nuclear weapons or power plants.
Western powers suspect Iran is seeking to produce an atomic bomb. Tehran has said its nuclear program is intended to generate power so it can export more oil.
The United States is frustrated at the pace at which the council is considering a new sanctions draft — which has been blessed by the major powers — and at some nations’ desire to wait until a report on Iran from the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
“There have been two developments this week that are deeply disturbing. The first was the attempted rocket launch by the Iranians the other day. The second were these press revelations — and we’ll see if they are true or not — about a new Iranian research into an advanced centrifuge,” Burns told Reuters.
“They point to a possible escalation by the Iranians of their violation” of U.N. security council resolutions. “It seems to us that the proper response here would be a third sanctions resolution, and that resolution is on the table.”
On Monday, Iran launched a rocket designed to carry its first locally made research satellite, sparking concerns among some Western nations that it could also use the technology to develop ballistic missiles that would carry nuclear warheads.
On Wednesday, diplomats said Iran was testing an advanced centrifuge at its Natanz nuclear complex, a move that could lead to Tehran enriching uranium much faster and gaining the means to build atom bombs.
Burns said the United States had not itself verified the centrifuge report but, if true, “that would be a very, very serious concern” for the international community and would “give more impetus” to the push for the sanctions resolution.
The third-ranking U.S. diplomat said he did not know if a Russian media report that Iran was building a second atomic power plant was true but added: “we would not see any need for Iran to build additional nuclear power plants — not at all.”
The draft sanctions resolution calls for a freeze on assets and mandatory travel bans for specific Iranian officials and for vigilance on transactions with all banks in Iran. It has already been approved by Germany and the five permanent council members: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.
Other council members, notably South Africa, believe it would be better to wait for a report from the International Atomic Energy Commission on Iran’s nuclear activities that is expected to be presented this month.
“We have been waiting a long time,” Burns said. “There has been a lot of foot dragging — too much of it actually — in the United Nations.”
While two earlier sanctions resolutions were unanimously approved, this one could run into resistance from some council members including Libya, which lived under U.N. sanctions for years and may be less inclined to impose them on others.
Burns said the United States hoped for unanimous approval but added “if we can’t get it, we’ll win by a majority vote.”