The German government has called on Tehran to halt plans to resume uranium conversion, but to return to the negotiating table. But Iran has removed the seals at a key atomic plant, signalling that talks are over.
Iran has fully resumed work at a uraniam conversion plant
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) gave the final go-ahead for the removal of seals which it put on the uranium conversion facility on the outskirts of Isfahan when Iran suspended sensitive nuclear activities last November. Their removal, which means the facility can return to full capacity, raises the stakes in a standoff with the international community.
Iran sparked grave international concern when it ended the nine-month suspension of uranium conversion on Monday, but it wasn't until the metal seals on key machinery were cut that the program really resumed.
An IAEA inspectors sets surveillance equipment
"We have started," said Iran's atomic energy agency vice-president Mohammad Saidi. "It is happening under the supervision of the agency."
Throughout the current escalation of tensions Iran has been at pains to emphasize that it is resuming conversion activities in concert with the IAEA, whose inspectors have installed surveillance equipment to monitor the process. Mindful of playing by international rules, Iran waited for the agency to finish installing surveillance equipment before breaking the seals.
The IAEA "told us in a letter that there was no obstacle and that (the agency) authorizes us to remove the seals, which will be returned to them afterwards," said Saidi.
Pressure mounts for Iran to backtrack
The move comes as the European Union tries to win approval at an emergency IAEA meeting in Vienna for a draft resolution calling on Iran to reverse its decision to continue with the nuclear fuel work.
IAEA emergency meeting on Iran's latest nuclear activities
Indicating the difficulties of forging an agreement, a formal IAEA meeting planned for Wednesday was cancelled because diplomats remained locked in closed-door talks on the EU resolution.
"We are at a difficult stage of the process and the German government is very concerned about this development," German government spokesman Bela Anda said. He expressed his hope that Iran would still come to its senses and resume talks with Britain, Germany and France.
Iran says no turning back
Iran had suspended uranium conversion and enrichment as a goodwill gesture during nine months of talks with the European Union aimed at staving off UN Security Council intervention. The prospect of the talks succeeding has been dealt a severe blow by Iran's resumption.
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has yet to appoint a new government but one of the candidates for the post of foreign minister, parliamentary foreign affairs committee head Aleaddine Boroujerdi, made clear there was no going back on the move.
He said the best guarantee that Iran's nuclear program is peaceful was the "infallible watching of the IAEA cameras," adding his hope that "the Europeans will also accept this reality."
He said the regime has still not made any decision on restarting Iran's uranium enrichment plant in the city of Natanz. Enrichment remains suspended but officials emphasize this is only temporary.
Conversion turns uranium ore, or yellowcake, into a feed gas for making enriched uranium, which can be the fuel for reactors or the explosive core of atomic bombs.