TEHRAN, Feb 5 (AFP): A defiant Iran moved Sunday to block snap UN nuclear inspections and kick-start sensitive fuel work after being reported to the Security Council, deepening a crisis over its disputed atomic ambitions.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shrugged off the threat of UN action, which could see his country badly isolated and slapped with sanctions, and vowed to ignore even a long stream of tough resolutions.
On Saturday the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board voted to report Iran to New York amid fears the country is using a nuclear power drive as a cover for weapons development.
"You can issue as many resolutions as you like and have fun with it, but you cannot prevent Iran's progress," said the hardline president, who has steered his country on a collision course with the West since his shock election win last June.
"You know that you cannot do anything. The era of bullying is over," he said of the West's determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear fuel technology that can also be used to make the fissile core of a nuclear bomb.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki meanwhile confirmed Iran had layed down the gauntlet with immediate retaliation.
"All voluntary measures taken over the past two-and-a-half or three years have been halted and we have no further commitment to the additional protocol and other voluntary commitments," he told a news conference.
"This resolution has no legal basis. All it does is simply remove the opportunity for voluntary cooperation between Iran and the agency."
The additional protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty hands the IAEA stronger inspection powers and is central to the UN watchdog's now three-year-old effort to determine what Iran is actually up to.
Mottaki did not specify what other steps had already been taken, but Iran's voluntary measures had notably included a freeze on uranium enrichment.
Iran says it only wants to enrich uranium to make reactor fuel. It prompted the latest crisis by resuming uranium conversion activities last August and enrichment research on January 10.
US President George W. Bush, however, said the text "is not the end of diplomacy or the IAEA's role" and merely the "beginning of an intensified diplomatic effort".
Although Iranian retaliation is set to worsen tensions, the Islamic regime also signalled it was ready to press on with negotiations with Russia-which now has a one month window to talk with Tehran before the Security Council actually takes up the matter.
Moscow's proposal is for enrichment to be carried out on Russian soil in order to allay proliferation concerns whilst at the same time allowing Iran to have nuclear fuel for civilian purposes.
Iran is under massive pressure from elsewhere to comply with the IAEA's demands to return to a moratorium on fuel cycle work, show better cooperation with IAEA inspectors and return to negotiations.
In the IAEA vote, 27 countries including the UN Security Council's permanent five-Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States-voted in favour and five abstained. Iran's only support came from Cuba, Syria and Venezuela.
Japan also said the resolution was "a clear message to Iran", and called on the Tehran to "take this resolution seriously and respond to it sincerely".