Western allies the United States, France, and Britain have condemned Iran's launch of high-level uranium enrichment at a facility deep under a mountain, calling it a violation of international law.
The United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on January 9 confirmed that Iran is now enriching uranium to 20 percent at the Fordow facility some 150 kilometers southwest of Tehran.
Experts say this level of enriched uranium can more easily be turned into fissile warhead material.
The French Foreign Ministry said it condemned the Iranian action with the "utmost firmness.”
The statement warned that France and its allies may now pursue “measures of an intensity and severity without precedent” to counter Iran’s nuclear drive.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague also condemned what he called a “provocative act which further undermines Iran's claims” that its nuclear program is entirely civilian in nature.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Iran's uranium-enrichment work at the new site was a "further escalation" in Tehran's nuclear dispute with the international community.
"Obviously, if they are enriching at Fordow to 20 percent, this is a further escalation of their ongoing violations with regard to their nuclear obligations, including the legally binding UN Security Council resolutions,” Nuland said.
She added: “So, obviously, we call on Iran, once again, to suspend enrichment activities, cooperate fully with the IAEA, and immediately comply with all Security Council and IAEA board of governors resolutions."
The United States and its allies say Iran is using its nuclear program as a cover to develop atomic weapons. The United States and the European Union recently expanded sanctions against the Islamic republic.
Iran, which says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, has repeatedly said it will not abandon uranium enrichment.
compiled from agency reports