WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday the United States wants UN sanctions imposed on Iran after the Bush administration concluded the country is on the verge of enriching enough uranium for four nuclear weapons.
The new alarms were raised after the UN International Atomic Energy Agency circulated a classified report among member governments about Iran's nuclear program.
Powell said the United States wants the UN Security Council to impose economic, political, and/or diplomatic sanctions against Iran because of steps he believes Iran is taking toward developing nuclear weapons.
Speaking with reporters after a daylong trip to Panama, Powell said the administration will push hard for the IAEA to refer the Iran issue to the Security Council for action Sept. 13, when the nuclear watchdog group holds a board meeting.
Acknowledging that many board members do not favor Security Council action against Iran at this time, Powell said he will consult with Germany, Britain, and France and other IAEA board members about Iran in the coming days.
Earlier yesterday, Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton, the administration's point man on nuclear proliferation threats, said: "We view with great concern" revelations in IAEA report that Iran is about to convert 37 tons of yellow cake uranium into uranium hexafluoride gas.
Bolton said that move combined with Iran's recent announcement that it intends to test its gas centrifuges "are further strong evidence of the compelling need to take Iran's nuclear program to the UN Security Council."
Uranium hexafluoride is spun in centrifuges to produce enriched uranium, which in turn can be used to generate power or make nuclear warheads, depending on the degree of enrichment.
The United States will continue to urge other members of the UN agency's board of governors "to join with us in this effort to deal with the Iranian threat to international peace and security," Bolton said.
Another senior Bush administration official said after Bolton left for talks in Europe that Iran was positioning itself to produce 220 pounds of enriched uranium, enough for four nuclear weapons.
"You are talking serious business here," the official said in an interview in which his identity was withheld. Despite denials by Iran, he said the United States remained convinced that Iran was proceeding to develop nuclear weapons.
While Bolton indicated the Bush administration might move unilaterally to try to impose economic or other UN sanctions on Iran, there was little likelihood of such a move at least until after the IAEA board's Sept. 13 meeting in Vienna, Austria.
UN inspectors have been looking for evidence that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program. Such a finding could be critical to the Bush administration's effort to gain support from the other 34 members of the agency to seek UN Security Council action.
Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman, said the report circulated by the IAEA "continues to document the fact that through the past 18 years Iran has amassed a record of deception and denial about its nuclear activities."
"It will be up to the board to decide what the next steps are," Casey said.