TEHRAN (Reuters) - Britain called on Wednesday for the U.N. Security Council to consider action against Iran after it resumed nuclear fuel research, but former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said any sanctions would be futile.
Iran removed U.N. seals at uranium enrichment research facilities on Tuesday and announced it would resume "research and development" on producing uranium fuel, prompting angry reactions from Washington, the European Union and Russia.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair vowed to haul Iran before the Security Council, which can impose punitive measures.
"I think the first thing to do is to secure agreement for a reference to the Security Council, (if) that is indeed what the allies jointly decide as I think seems likely," Blair told parliament.
"Then ... we have to decide what measures to take and we obviously don't rule out any measures at all," he added.
Blair made no direct reference to military force, but his remarks seemed stronger than those of Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who said on Tuesday military action was not on Britain's agenda and that he believed it was not on anyone else's.
Iran says its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful. The U.N. nuclear watchdog has found no firm proof to the contrary.
"Now we have resumed our nuclear research activities and God willing in the near future we will fully put this energy at the disposal of the Iranian nation," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared in a speech in the southern city of Bandar Abbas.
He did not refer to the international storm Iran's action has stirred, but Rafsanjani said sanctions would not work.
"Adopting harsh measures like sanctions cannot bring about the desired outcome," the ex-president said at Tehran University in a sermon to mark the Muslim Eid al-Adha festival.
"We will stand by our right to nuclear technology. They will regret creating any problems for us," he said, adding that diplomacy, not confrontation, remained the best way forward.
EU TO BREAK OFF TALKS
However, three top European Union powers were expected to call off moribund nuclear talks with Iran and to advocate sending the dispute to the Security Council when they meet in Berlin on Thursday, a diplomat from one of the EU trio said.
The foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain, along with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, were due to meet at 3:30 p.m. (1430 GMT) to discuss the crisis caused by Iran's move to reactivate a nuclear fuel programme mothballed under a November 2004 deal with the European negotiators.
"Everybody agrees the point of no return has been reached," the EU3 diplomat said, referring to what he said was an informal consensus reached among the bloc's 25 member states.
European diplomats say they now expect the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors to meet in early February to discuss referring Iran to the Security Council.
They say a clear simple majority on the IAEA's 35-nation board favours such a move, but add that EU and U.S. officials will work to achieve as much consensus as possible.
Russia and China, which have major energy interests in Iran, have previously opposed moving the dispute to the Security Council, where they both wield veto powers.
However, Iran's latest action appears to have disconcerted Moscow. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed the row with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice by telephone.
"Both sides...expressed deep disappointment about Tehran's decision to abandon the moratorium," a Russian foreign ministry statement said.
The Security Council's five permanent members, including China, recently sent letters to Iran urging it not to restart its nuclear fuel activities.
Iran's action rattled oil markets on Tuesday, helping push up the price of crude for a while.
Any embargo on Iranian oil exports would be a double-edged sword -- Iran is the world's fourth biggest crude oil exporter.
The United States already has a full embargo against Iran, but the EU could introduce trade restrictions.
The Security Council could impose sanctions ranging from travel curbs on government officials to a full trade embargo such as those previously imposed on Libya and Iraq.
The United States said the international community needed to press Iran to act responsibly with its nuclear ambitions.
"The thinking there is to create the pressures, environment, the incentives to be a responsible member of the community," U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow told BBC radio.
German Deputy Foreign Minister Gernot Erler said Iran's plan to resume research on uranium enrichment, which can produce fuel for power stations or weapons, violated Iran's pledge in 2004 to freeze enrichment-related work to ease fears it wants the bomb.
"There can be no further negotiations without a guarantee from Iran that it will not conduct any activities related to (uranium) enrichment," Erler told German radio.
(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau in Berlin, Madeline Chambers in London and Oliver Bullough in Moscow)
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