TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran has successfully enriched uranium for the first time, a major development in its fuel cycle technology, news agencies quoted former President Hashemi Rafsanjani as saying Tuesday.
Current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad added that Iran "will soon join the club of countries with nuclear technology."
The U.N. Security Council has demanded that Iran stop all uranium enrichment activity by April 28. Iran has rejected the demand, saying it has a right to develop the process.
The comments by the Iranian officials came as the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, Mohammed ElBaradei, was due to visit Tehran this week for talks on the nuclear standoff.
Officials with his International Atomic Energy Agency have said he is hoping to win at least partial concessions from Iran. IAEA inspectors are currently in Iran visiting two key facilities.
Rafsanjani's comment, carried by the Kuwait News Agency. was the first disclosure that Iran had successfully enriched uranium since February, when it began research at its enrichment facility in the town of Natanz.
Rafsanjani did not disclose the amount of uranium that Iran had enriched through the facility's 164 centrifuges, but he said it would put the country in a good position for ElBaradei's visit.
"When ElBaradei arrives in Iran, he will face new circumstances," Rafsanjani said, according to KUNA.
"Iran has put into operation the first unit of 164 centrifuges, has injected (uranium) gas and has reached industrial production," the news agency quoted him as saying.
"We should expand the work of these machines to achieve a full industrial line. We need dozens of these units (sets of 164 centrifuges) to achieve a uranium enrichment facility," he said.
Enriching uranium to a low level produces fuel for nuclear reactors. To a higher level, it produces the material for a nuclear bomb.
Iran would require thousands of operating centrifuges to produce enough uranium for either purpose.
In Vienna, IAEA officials declined to comment on the report. A diplomat familiar with Tehran's enrichment program said the report appeared to be accurate. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss information restricted to the agency.
A spokesman for the British Foreign Office recalled that Iran was under Security Council orders to "resume full and sustained suspension of all its enrichment."
"The latest Iranian statement is not particularly helpful," the spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with government policy.
Ahmadinejad had promised Monday to announce "good nuclear news" soon. On Monday, Tehran shrugged off reports that the United States is drawing backup plans for military action against Iran over its nuclear activities, saying they were an attempt to scare it into halting its program and warning any attack would bring a "suitable response."
Several American media reports over the weekend said the Bush administration was studying options for military strikes against Iran to stop its nuclear program. The New Yorker magazine raised the possibility of using atomic bombs against Iran's underground nuclear sites.
President Bush said Monday the reports were "wild speculation." He said his vow to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons "doesn't mean force necessarily. In this case it means diplomacy."
But the White House was not ruling out a military response and said "normal defense and intelligence planning" was under way.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Iran Reaches Key Step in Nuclear Process