·Ewen MacAskill, diplomatic editor / Monday February 6, 2006 ] — The Guardian
Tehran prohibits surprise inspections of atomic sites
·[Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, taunted the west yesterday after his country was referred to the UN security council over its suspected nuclear weapons ambitions.
As Tehran took swift retaliatory action, Mr Ahmadinejad told the west there was nothing it could do to stop Iran. He said: "Our enemies cannot do a damn thing. We do not need you at all. But you are in need of the Iranian nation."
His defiant response came after the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s atomic watchdog, voted on Saturday by 27 to three – Syria, Cuba and Venezuela – with five abstentions to refer the issue to the security council, which could impose sanctions. Mr Ahmadinejad’s remarks will add to jitters when the markets open today, with a possible jump in oil prices.
Iran, the world’s fourth biggest oil producer, has threatened to respond to sanctions by pushing up oil prices.
Tehran responded to the security council referral by:
· Stopping IAEA inspectors from carrying out surprise inspections of Iranian nuclear sites, making it harder for the international community to police Iran’s activities.
· Scrapping a voluntary agreement reached in 2003 that included not only the surprise inspections but a suspension of uranium enrichment, a step towards attaining a nuclear weapons capability.
· Initiating a bill in the Iranian parliament to restrict the sale of American goods in Iran.
Manouchehr Mottaki, Iran’s foreign minister, said yesterday that the IAEA’s decision presented Iran with two options. "One was the option of resistance and the other was surrender. We chose resistance," he said.
Although the issue goes to the security council immediately, it would not make any decision about action against Iran until after the IAEA meets again on March 6, giving Tehran a month’s breathing space.
Iran sent conflicting signals over the weekend over whether it would pursue diplomatic options during this period. On Saturday Javad Vaeidi, deputy head of the powerful National Security Council, ruled out acceptance of a Russian compromise plan, the only deal left on the table. But a foreign ministry spokesman, Hamid Reza Asefi, told a press conference in Tehran yesterday that Iran would go ahead with talks with Russia on February 16 but Russia’s proposal would have to be "adjusted". Sergei Ivanov, Russia’s defence minister, backed Mr Ahmadinejad’s view that there was little the west could do. He said sanctions would not have much effect.
The US, emboldened by the IAEA’s decision, which will give it more control over the issue, expressed a determination to prevent Tehran acquiring a weapons capability. President George Bush said the referral to the security council "sends a clear message to the regime in Iran that the world will not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons".
Ehud Olmert, the acting prime minister of Israel, which Mr Ahmadinejad has threatened to wipe off the face of the Earth said Iran would pay "a very heavy price" for resuming full-scale uranium enrichment.
The US and Israel have refused to rule out air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities. Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, reiterated this yesterday. He said this was partly because of Mr Ahmadinejad’s approach to Israel. "Any government that says Israel has no right to exist is making a statement about its possible behaviour in the future," he said.
But Abdolrahim Moussavi, head of Iran’s joint chiefs of staff, warned that any military strike would be useless. "We are not seeking a military confrontation, but if that happens we will give the enemy a lesson that will be remembered throughout history," he said.