Iran Declares New Achievement on Enrichment |

February 11, 2010 by Post Team 

12iran-1-articleInlineIran Declares New Achievement on Enrichment | — Ignoring United States threats of more stringent sanctions, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted on Thursday as saying Iran had produced a first batch of uranium enriched to a level of 20 percent and that it was capable of achieving much higher levels of purity.

Iran was now “a nuclear state,” Mr. Ahmadinejad told a huge rally of supporters on the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, The Associated Press reported.

Western experts have already said that once Iran was able to enrich uranium to 20 percent it could theoretically also move relatively quickly toward the manufacture of weapons-grade fuel, usually reckoned to require 90 percent purification.

The process at the Natanz facility south of Tehran took place in the presence of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear oversight body. I.A.E.A. officials said Thursday they could not confirm the Iranian claim.

“Right now at Natanz we have the capability to enrich uranium to much higher levels,” Mr. Ahmadinejad told tens of thousands of supporters in Tehran’s Azadi Square, saying “it was reported that the first consignment of 20 percent enriched uranium was produced and was put at the disposal of the scientists,” Reuters said.

“In the near future we will treble its production,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said.

The fact that Mr. Ahmadinejad made the announcement at a major political event reflected the central role played by the nuclear program in Tehran’s effort to inspire nationalist emotions among Iranians bolstering its position in face of the worst political crisis since the Islamic Revolution.

To that extent, it showed how much Iran’s foreign policy is being driven by domestic concerns,anlysts said.

In a note distributed to the agency’s member states late Wednesday, the director general of the I.A.E.A., Yukiya Amano, said that when the inspectors arrived at the Natanz on Wednesday, they were informed that Iran had already begun to feed low-enriched uranium into a cascade of centrifuges for enrichment, ostensibly for use in a medical reactor.

The inspectors were told that “within a few days” Iran would produce 20 percent pure uranium, the note said, according to diplomats who saw it. Iran had said the amount of low-enriched uranium to be processed was small, around 22 pounds. Iran is believed to currently possess only one centrifuge capable of processing to a purity level of 20 percent.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s remarks followed Iran’s announcement only on Monday that it would begin enrichment to 20 percent. The response in the West was an increased clamor for the imposition of sanctions that would target the Revolutionary Guards Corps in particular. The United States Treasury Department imposed unilateral sanctions on Wednesday against a corps commander and four companies linked to the organization.

Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, rejecting accusations that it is planning to build a nuclear bomb. “When we say we do not manufacture the bomb, we mean it, and we do not believe in manufacturing a bomb, Mr. Ahmadinejad told the crowd, according to The A.P. “If we wanted to manufacture a bomb, we would announce it.”

That seemed a marked shift away from Iran’s denials that its nuclear program is designed to create weapons. But it was unclear whether Mr. Ahmadinejad’s remarks represented gamesmanship or a step toward acknowledging the suspicions that it is pursuing a weapons program.

Iran began its enrichment effort after a deal to swap low-enriched uranium for fuel rods from abroad apparently broke down. The deal last October foundered on disputes over the timing of the exchange, with Iran insisting that the swap take place simultaneously on Iranian soil while international powers wanted Iran to export its stockpile for reprocessing into fuel rods that would be returned to Iran later. That would have deprived Iran of the raw material for enrichment.

Iran has insisted in recent days that the deal is still on the table, but Western diplomats familiar with the dispute said the Iranian position was part of the diplomatic maneuvering to prevent China in a particular from supporting the Western demand for tighter United Nations sanctions.

Alan Cowell reported from Paris, and Michael Slackman from Cairo.


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