PARIS -- Europe, backed by the United States, rejected Iran's request for talks on its nuclear program yesterday, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying that ''there's not much to talk about" until Iran halts nuclear activity. But Iran's president accused the West of acting like the ''lord of the world" in denying his country the peaceful use of nuclear power.
The quick dismissal of Iran's request for a ministerial-level meeting with French, British, and German negotiators focused attention on the next step: the US and European push to refer Iran to the UN Security Council, which could impose economic and political sanctions.
Russia and China, which have veto power on the council, appeared to remain the greatest obstacles. Both nations are opposed to sanctioning a country with which they have strong economic and strategic ties. In recent days, they have expressed reluctance even to the idea of referral.
The national security adviser of Israel, which strongly supports bringing Iran before the Security Council, was in Moscow yesterday to make his country's case, as was the French foreign minister. Tehran's ambassador to Russia urged the Kremlin to resist what he called pressure from other countries.
Even if there were consensus on sanctions, the five permanent Security Council members would be faced with a dilemma. Placing an embargo on Iran's oil exports would hurt Tehran, which earns most of its revenues from energy sales, but also roil world crude markets, spiking prices upward.
Europe halted talks after Iran resumed uranium enrichment research this month. The West fears the nuclear program will lead to nuclear weapons, though Iran insists it is only for civilian use.
''Iran must return to a complete suspension of these activities," said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Denis Simonneau. He said Iran's decision to resume the research ''means that it is not possible for us to meet under satisfactory conditions to pursue these discussions."
Simonneau said discussions are not possible either among ministers or ''at the level of civil servant" as long as Iran pursues nuclear activities.
In Washington, Rice and the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, also rejected any return to talks. France, Germany, and Britain led the talks with Iran on behalf of the 25-member European bloc.
Rice condemned Iran's decision to resume its nuclear program, saying the international community is united in mistrusting Tehran and its present leadership with such technology.
Britain, too, refused to consider renewed talks.
''Iranian professions of continued interest in negotiations are . . . not credible. The Iranians knew full well that resuming enrichment-related activity would trigger" a halt to talks, and did it anyway, a British Foreign Office spokesman said yesterday, speaking on condition of anonymity, in keeping with government policy.
In Vienna, the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, announced yesterday that a special meeting of its 35-nation board of governors would be held Feb. 2. The United States, France, Britain, and Germany had requested the meeting to consider referring Iran to the Security Council.
The United States, Britain, France, and Germany have drawn up a draft IAEA resolution that would ask the Security Council to press Tehran ''to extend full and prompt cooperation to the agency" in its investigation of suspect nuclear activities -- though it stops short of asking the council to impose sanctions.
French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said the IAEA meeting will be a ''very important moment."
Speaking in Berlin after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Villepin said European nations are seeking the ''greatest possible consensus to mark clearly the limit of what we can accept."
Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, shrugged off attempts to refer Iran to the council.
''There isn't any problem. This is their endeavor," he told reporters. He accused the West of trying to deprive Iran of peaceful nuclear technology.
''We are asking they step down from their ivory towers and act with a little logic," he said. ''Who are you to deprive us from fulfilling our goals? You think you are the lord of the world and everybody should follow you. But that idea is a wrong idea."