TEHRAN (Reuters) - Britain called on Wednesday for the U.N. Security Council to consider action against Iran after it vowed to resume nuclear fuel research and Washington said a referral to the body was "more likely than ever".
Iran's hardline president said his country would pursue its nuclear programme despite international concerns.
Washington, which has been demanding for years that Iran be referred to the Security Council, said Washington would seek to "change Iranian behaviour" through diplomatic channels.
British Foreign Minister Jack Straw hopes his French and German counterparts agree to push for this when the three men meet in Berlin on Thursday to discuss Iran.
Tehran began removing U.N. seals at uranium enrichment research facilities on Tuesday and announced it would resume "research and development" on producing enriched uranium, a technology that can produce atom bomb fuel, prompting angry reactions from Washington, the European Union and Russia.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair told parliament he aimed to secure international agreement to haul Iran before the Security Council, which can impose punitive measures.
"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 Straw, who said on Tuesday military action was not on Britain's agenda and that he believed it was not on anyone else's.
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters it appeared Tehran's nuclear programme would soon be on the agenda of the U.N.'s supreme body.
"It is more likely than ever that this will happen," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.
Asked by reporters about Washington's aims in hauling Iran before the Security Council, McCormack said "we still seek to change Iranian behavior through diplomatic channels."
Iran says its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful, but Western nations do not believe this. The U.N. nuclear watchdog has found evidence but no firm proof to the contrary.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shrugged off the world outcry over Tehran's decision to resume nuclear fuel activities.
"The Iranian nation will continue its way decisively and wisely to obtain and use nuclear technology for civilian ends and has no fear at all of the fuss created by the big powers," he said in a speech in the southern city of Bandar Abbas.
EU TO BREAK OFF TALKS
Three top European Union powers were expected to formally call off moribund nuclear talks with Iran and to advocate sending the dispute to the Security Council when they meet 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) in Berlin 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 convene 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 Russia and China, recently sent letters to Iran urging it not to restart its nuclear fuel activities.
Crude oil prices rose more than a dollar on Wednesday as dealers worried the dispute over Iran's nuclear program could lead to a disruption in supply from the world's fourth largest oil exporter.
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 more sweeping 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.
(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau in Berlin, Madeline Chambers in London, Oliver Bullough in Moscow, Carol Giacomo in Washington and Crispian Balmer in Rome)
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