TEHRAN -- Iran confirmed yesterday that it had expanded its controversial uranium enrichment program, a semiofficial news agency reported, even as the United States and its partners prepared a UN resolution to impose limited sanctions.
Tehran's plan to inject gas into a second cascade of centrifuges -- a process that yields either nuclear fuel or material for a warhead -- was a tiny step unlikely to bring Iran within grasp of a weapon.
But its timing, while Western powers prepared recommendations for possible sanctions, was a further sign of defiance.
The move also violates a resolution of the International Atomic Energy Agency, a UN watchdog, that requires Iran to cease enrichment-related activity.
The confirmation came from the semiofficial Iranian Students News Agency. Iran's government sometimes uses the agency to leak information deemed too sensitive for official channels.
Politicians were on holiday for the Islamic feast of Eid al-Fitr, and the report could not be immediately corroborated.
Iran started a second cascade of centrifuges two weeks ago, and "gas will be injected into the cascade during the current week," the agency reported. That step produces enriched uranium, which Tehran intends to use, the agency added.
Tehran says its uranium enrichment program aims only to generate electricity, while the United States and others suspect it is a cover for building atomic weapons.
A draft UN resolution floated by Germany, France, and Britain would ban the sale of missile and atomic technology to Iran, and end most UN help for its nuclear programs, diplomats said on condition of anonymity because the draft was not yet public.
The United States indicated yesterday that it saw the European proposal as too weak.
"We look forward to a full meeting of the five permanent members where we will obviously have American changes to the proposed European text," said Richard Grenell, spokesman for the US Mission to the United Nations. He refused to comment on any US proposals.
The United States, France, Britain, Russia, and China have veto power on the 15-nation Security Council and could block any measure. All five were expected to meet in the next day or two to discuss the European draft.
One diplomat said it contained moderate language aimed at winning support from Russia and China -- both of whom agreed in principle to imposing sanctions after Tehran bypassed an Aug. 31 deadline to cease all experiments linked to uranium enrichment.