The announcement came as foreign ministers from those three states and EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana met in Berlin to discuss Iran's nuclear ambitions and its removal of UN seals on equipment at the Natanz nuclear facility on 10 January to resume research on uranium enrichment.
The so-called EU-3 also called for an emergency meeting of board of the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), on the subject.
Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said representatives of Russia, the United States, China, and the European Union plan to meet in London in mid-January to have what he called "urgent consultations" over Iran's nuclear program.
United European Strategy
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called Iran's resumption of suspended nuclear work "a unilateral rejection" of two years of negotiations with the EU. He said his country, France, and Britain have agreedthat talks with Iran have reached an impasse.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Iran had "turned its back" on EU efforts and that the only alternative was to start the UN process by going to the IAEA.
"It is highly probable [that Iran will be referred to the UN Security Council], but the decision to call an emergency meeting of the [IAEA] Board of Governors must be one for France, Germany, United Kingdom, and Javier Solana combined," Straw had said in London before leaving for the meeting in Berlin.
France, Britain, and Germany have been leading nuclear negotiations with Tehran since 2004 in order to find a compromise solution to the standoff over Iran's nuclear activities.
But those talks have run aground, particularly after Iran removed the UN seals at Natanz.
Straw said Iran's actions leave Europe no choice but to respond: "The decision earlier this week by Iran to break the seals on its uranium-enrichment and related-activity equipment means that we have now to consider the next steps before us."
German Deputy Foreign Minister Gernot Erler had said on 11 January that talks cannot continue "without an Iranian assurance that there will be no concrete enrichment activity."
Iranian officials have said the country will enrich uranium on a small scale only for research purposes. But there is concern that the move could eventually lead to the development of nuclear weapons, particularly given Tehran's failure to disclose nuclear-related activities as required under long-standing international commitments. Enriched uranium can be used for nuclear fuel or, at high levels of enrichment, for nuclear bombs.
On 11 January, British Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed dismay at Iran's decision and described the current situation as "very serious."
A few hours later, U.S. State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack also said that it is very likely that Iran's nuclear case will be transferred to the UN Security Council.
"It is more likely than ever that we are headed to the [UN] Security Council on this question," McCormack said. "The international community is facing, I think, coming up very soon, on a decision point on what the diplomatic next steps are concerning Iran."
Russia and China, permanent members of the UN Security Council with interests in Iran, have so far opposed referral to the UN. However, in recent days both countries have criticized Iran's move, with Russia expressing disappointment.
"The Washington Post" reported in its 12 January issue that Russia has told Washington it will not block efforts to take Tehran before the UN Security Council.
According to the report, the commitment was made in a phone conversation on 10 January between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
China has also expressed concern over Tehran's decision. But the Chinese Foreign Ministry has called for restraint and said that the issue should be resolved within the framework of the IAEA.
The criticism, condemnation, and the toughening of the international stance, however, do not seem to have dissuaded Iran.
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said during a speech in Bandar Abbas on 11 January that his country has no fear of the uproar over its nuclear activities.
"I tell those powers [who object against Iran's nuclear program] that the Iranian nation and the government, which has arisen from the divine will of this nation, will take the path to achieve peaceful nuclear power with perseverance, power and with wit and logic," Ahmadinejad said. "God willing, we will put this very valuable energy at the service of the development of the great Iranian nation in the near future."
Earlier that day, Iran's influential former president and current Expediency Council chairman, Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, called on Western countries to act wisely in the dispute.
Meanwhile on 11 January, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he was "very concerned" over Tehran's decision.
But according to his spokesman, Annan added that it was up to the IAEA to deal with the matter.