Monday, April 09, 2007

Iran Has 'Joined The Nuclear Club Of Nations' Says Ahmadinejad

Taken from The Daly Mail, UK, 9th April 2007

The Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has stunned the international community by declaring his country has joined the "nuclear club of nations".

He said: "With great honour, I declare that as of today our dear country has joined the nuclear club of nations and can produce nuclear fuel on an industrial scale."

Iran is now on a collision course with the West for dramatically expanding the uranium enrichment programme that the United Nations has demanded it halt.

The country's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani confirmed that it has begun enriching uranium with 3,000 centrifuges at its Natanz enrichment facility in central Iran.

Until now, Iran was only known to have 328 centrifuges operating.

President Ahmadinejad was speaking at a ceremony at the Natanz facility to mark the one-year anniversary of Iran's first success in enriching small amounts of uranium.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is peaceful but uranium enrichment can produce fuel for a nuclear reactor or the material for a nuclear warhead.

But Britain and the United States accuse Iran of intending to produce weapons, a charge Tehran denies.

A British Foreign Office spokesman said Iran should suspend enrichment immediately. He said: "We are concerned that Iran appears to have confirmed more nuclear enrichment activity. This is a further breach of IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and UNSC (UN Security Council) resolutions.

"Iran knows exactly what it must do: comply with UNSC resolutions 1737 and 1747 by suspending all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities before discussions can begin on assistance with a modern civil nuclear power programme."

He added: "We have always made it clear that we are happy for Iran to have a civil nuclear power programme but they have to satisfy the international community that that is what it is seeking to develop.

"The international community stands together in ensuring that Iran does not develop the means to acquire nuclear weapons."

The expansion of enrichment is a strong show of defiance toward the United Nations, which has vowed to ratchet up sanctions as long as Iran refuses to suspend the process.

The Security Council first imposed limited sanctions in December, then increased them slightly last month and has set a new deadline of late May for Tehran to stop enrichment.

The escalation of the dispute follows comes with tensions between Iran and the West high following its 13-day detention of 15 British sailors and marines.

The personnel, who were seized by Revolutionary Guards off the Iraqi coast, have said they were put under psychological pressure by their captors to force them to "confess" to being in Iranian waters when captured.

In his speech, President Ahmadinejad said the door to negotiations with the West remains open. "Iran welcomes any suggestion and dialogue to resolve the issues," he said.

He insisted Iran has been cooperative with the UN nuclear watchdog, allowing it inspections of its facilities. But he warned; "Don't do something that will make this great nation reconsider its policies."

Larijani said his country was willing to offer assurances that its program is peaceful. But he said the West must accept its nuclear programme as a fact.

"We are ready to reach understanding with the Westerners through a corridor of real negotiations - in the current situation, in which Iran's nuclear activities have been concluded," state television quoted Larijani as saying.

"The understanding regards assuring the other party about the peacefulness of Iran's nuclear activities," he said. "But we do not give in our rights." On April 9, 2006, Iran announced it had first enriched uranium using an array of 164 centrifuges.

Across Iran, school bells rang on Monday to mark the "national day of nuclear energy." The government sent out SMS messages of congratulations to millions of mobile phone users.

In Tehran, some 200 students formed a human chain at Iran's Atomic Energy Organization while chanting "death to America" and "death to Britain." The students burnt flags of the US and Britain.

Iran has said its next step is to set up 3,000 centrifuges, but it is not clear where the project stands. In mid-January, the hard-line president had been expected to announce that installation of the 3,000 had begun, but he did not. Instead, Ahmadinejad said Iran will gradually announce its successes step by step.

Experts say the Natanz plant needs between 50,000 to 60,000 centrifuges to consistently produce fuel for a reactor or build a warhead.

In the enrichment process, uranium gas is pumped into a "cascade" of thousands of centrifuges, which spin the gas at supersonic speeds to purify it.

Uranium enriched to a low level, at least 3 percent, can be used as fuel, while at a far higher level, more than 90 percent, it can be used to build a weapon.

Iran currently has two cascades of 164 centrifuges each operating at an aboveground portion of the Natanz facility in central Iran. The two cascades have produced small quantities of non-weapons grade enriched uranium, U.N. nuclear inspectors have said.

Two smaller assemblies are known to have been set up in a heavily protected underground portion of Natanz, and have been going through "dry testing" - without gas - since November, according to inspectors.

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